As the war in Afghanistan draws to a shameful close in a shower of blame-shifting, lies, and recriminations…and that is only Joe Biden’s disastrous presser yesterday (see Joe Biden Puts on an Obscene Performance After Finally Showing for Postponed Afghanistan Presser), another conflict, just as bitter and protracted, has broken out in Washington. Though the major participants are the Defense Department, the State Department, and the Intelligence Community (IC), it is pretty obvious that State and Defense are moving toward a coalition to pin the blame for this debacle on the IC. Not that that is a bad thing. Where Defense and State own a lot of the dumb sh** that got us to the point of begging the Taliban to “let my people go” so they can use the only air base in Afghanistan to which we still have access, the goat-rope we’ve witnessed over the past week largely belongs to the IC. The stakes are high as knives are out for the budgets of State, Defense, and the IC, and the loser in the bureaucratic war might very well be gutted. As I posted earlier:
This battle is playing out because any time you have an American ally that received 20 years of attention, some $88 billion in US funds, and has soaked up the blood of some 23,000 Americans folds to a ragtag force that it outnumbers by about 4:1 and does it in a matter of days even the dimmest and most corrupt and compromised member of Congress is going to demand answers.
A couple of days ago, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley gave a joint press conference that, in my opinion, raised many more questions than It answered. I posted on this press conference at RedState in The SecDef Lloyd Austin and CJCS Mark Milley Afghanistan Press Conference Had the Qualities of a James Bond Martini. The key part of that presser in regards to the bureaucratic battle is this:
Let me make one comment on the intelligence, because I’m seeing all over the news that there was a warning of a rapid collapse.
I have previously said from this podium and in sworn testimony before Congress that the intelligence clearly indicated that multiple scenarios were possible. One of those was an outright Taliban takeover following a rapid collapse of the Afghan security forces and the government. Another was civil war. And a third was a negotiated settlement. However, the timeframe for “rapid collapse,” that was widely estimated and ranged from weeks to months and even years following our departure.
There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in eleven days.
Milley clearly points the finger at the IC for not delivering useful information. However, the definitive way he makes that claim leads me to believe he has had an extensive investigation into who knew what when and knows he will not be contradicted.
In the meantime, the IC has launched a couple of attacks on State. Both of them are obvious bullshit; surprisingly, the one attack that is just stupid with bullshit has taken off in the media.
First up, we have a post in the Just Security blog by a guy named Douglas London who purports to have been the CIA’s Counterterrorism Chief for South and Southwest Asia and an adviser to the Joe Biden campaign. He’s pretty obviously hostile to the idea of leaving Afghanistan…he sneeringly refers to “Forever Wars,” which is exactly what he would have us involved in. The article has some interesting points, like his belief that part of the Biden withdrawal strategy was to blame Trump, but it is largely hand-waving and excuse-making salted with “if I told you I’d have to kill you “ hints to show you he’s really in the know. This is the fun part:
The U.S. Intelligence Community assessed Afghanistan’s fortunes according to various scenarios and conditions and depending on the multiple policy alternatives from which the president could choose. So, was it 30 days from withdrawal to collapse? 60? 18 months? Actually, it was all of the above, the projections aligning with the various “what ifs.” Ultimately, it was assessed, Afghan forces might capitulate within days under the circumstances we witnessed, in projections highlighted to Trump officials and future Biden officials alike.
If you’ve ever dealt with the IC, you know that any analytical product they produce is “under some set of circumstances anything might happen” because they want all bases covered. But if you read Douglas’ statement carefully, he actually doesn’t say, though he implies, the IC considered an option that involved immediate collapse. He is referring to the lag between US withdrawal and Afghan collapse, not a collapse with US troops still in that country.
Next, we have an epic hit carried out by the IC of State by way of the Wall Street Journal. The article is by Vivian Salama and headlined Internal State Department Cable Warned of Kabul Collapse. This is being portrayed as some kind of prescient prediction that was ignored by the State Department. It isn’t. It is a prediction that was grotesquely wrong and is being proven wrong every day.
An internal State Department memo last month warned top agency officials of the potential collapse of Kabul soon after the U.S.’s Aug. 31 troop withdrawal deadline in Afghanistan, according to a U.S. official and a person familiar with the document.
The classified cable represents the clearest evidence yet that the administration had been warned by its own officials on the ground that the Taliban’s advance was imminent and Afghanistan’s military may be unable to stop it.
The cable, sent via the State Department’s confidential dissent channel, warned of rapid territorial gains by the Taliban and the subsequent collapse of Afghan security forces, and offered recommendations on ways to mitigate the crisis and speed up an evacuation, the two people said.
The cable, dated July 13, also called for the State Department to use tougher language in describing the atrocities being committed by the Taliban, one of the people said.
As much as I hate to say it, this is exactly what Milley was talking about. The collapse began three weeks before the slated departure of US forces and was pretty much complete by Sunday/Monday of this week. The insane part of this WSJ story is the attention the “prediction of collapse” has received when the cable, sent on July 14, recommends evacuation flights start on August 1; this is barely 5 days before the Afghan national government collapsed. What is also skipped over is that the “rebels” who used the “dissent channel” apparently didn’t think of preparing for evacuating Afghan nationals until mid-July.
About the time Austin and Lloyd were making the IC the stuckee, someone fired a shot a Defense.
Per our own DANIEL LIPPMAN and LARA SELIGMAN, in early December, outgoing acting Defense Secretary CHRIS MILLER sent a text message to his would-be successor, Lloyd Austin, congratulating him on his selection as the incoming president’s Pentagon chief and offering to meet to discuss the handover, according to three former officials with knowledge of the exchange. In response, Austin texted Miller “thanks,” but did not follow up about arranging a meeting.
Austin had chosen to do all of his transition planning remotely due to Covid-19 concerns, a transition official told POLITICO at the time. Austin and Miller also didn’t talk on the phone during the entire transition, according to two people familiar with the matter.
In contrast with Austin, former Secretary of State MIKE POMPEO and Biden Secretary of State Antony Blinken held one face-to-face meeting in which Afghanistan was touched upon, according to a person close to Pompeo. And ROBERT O’BRIEN, Trump’s last national security adviser, held more than half a dozen calls or in-person meetings with his successor, Jake Sullivan, according to two people familiar with the matter.
I’m not terribly sure what Austin could have learned from Miller that would help in Afghanistan, considering the primary players at Defense now were there in January.
This fight is going to continue for a while, but I’d be willing to bet that when the IC estimates of the situation are revealed, they will show that our spies were just as clueless about what was happening inside of an allied nation where we had the ability to move freely about as they are about what is happening in North Korea.