Yesterday organs of the Biden administration at the Pentagon and the State Department held briefings to announce the the departure of American forces from Afghanistan. The Pentagon has posted the transcript of Centcom Commander Kenneth McKenzie’s Pentagon briefing announcing the completion of our evacuation here. The Facebook video of the statement followed by questions and answers is below.
Hours later the State Department released a recorded statement by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the video and text of which are posted here. I have embedded the video below.
For those who have followed the administration’s public statements over the past two weeks, these briefings could have come as no surprise. For others these statements have to be seen to be believed. They compound the disgrace of our surrender and exit. I would like to offer the following thoughts and observations in the form of bullet points.
• General McKenzie announced “the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of the military mission to evacuate American citizens, third-country nationals and vulnerable Afghans.” Yet a shifting number of American citizens were left behind. “The mission” was the departure of the military by August 31. It is that mission which was completed. General McKenzie’s portrayal of successful completion of the military mission was public relations.
• In his statement General McKenzie did not acknowledge the American citizens left behind. In response to a question General McKenzie put the abandonment of these Americans this way: “[N]one of them made it to the airport, and were able to be — and were able to be accommodated.” How many? “[W]e think the citizens that were not brought out number [is] in the low — very low hundreds.”
• If the mission was to depart by the Biden/Taliban deadline of August 31, as I believe it was, they did the best they could.
• General McKenzie offered kind words on the Taliban: “I will tell you, the Taliban had been very — very pragmatic and very business-like as we have approached this withdrawal. We did not turn it over to the Taliban. General Donahue, one of the last things he did before leaving was talk to the Taliban commander that he had been coordinating with, as soon as — at about the time we were going to leave, just to let him know that we were leaving.”
• General McKenzie reported the “demilitarization” of equipment left behind at the Kabul airport. He made no mention of the $85 billion of equipment left behind elsewhere in Afghanistan according to the Times (UK) graphic below.
A mind-blowing graphic in today's Times on what $85bn worth of lost equipment means in practice for the Taliban: pic.twitter.com/GDcuNQbb6P
— Will Brown (@_Will_Brown) August 29, 2021
• As for the Americans left behind: “I believe our Department of State is going to work very hard to allow any American citizens that are left — and we think the citizens that were not brought out number in the low — very low hundreds.” Over to you, Antony Blinken.
• As has become the custom for the briefing by high administration officials, Blinken appeared two hours after the announced time. I imagine he was sitting around the table on the Seventh Floor with his speechwriters asking, “What the hell do we say now?”
• The video of Blinken’s statement is bizarre. Looking slightly to the side of the camera, Blinken read his statement from a teleprompter. As though in response to his thoughts — “somebody get me out of here” — the door behind Blinken opened shortly after he began his remarks. Blinken’s remarks raised a multitude of questions, yet he had nothing to say beyond his prepared statement.
• According to Blinken, ’twas a famous victory: “More than 123,000 people have been safely flown out of Afghanistan. That includes about 6,000 American citizens. This has been a massive military, diplomatic, and humanitarian undertaking – one of the most difficult in our nation’s history – and an extraordinary feat of logistics and coordination under some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable.” He handed out kudos like a starlet at the Academy Awards.
• Blinken magically reduced the number of Americans left behind from General McKenzie’s “low hundreds”: “We believe there are still a small number of Americans – under 200 and likely closer to 100 – who remain in Afghanistan and want to leave.” All they know is that they left an indeterminate number of American citizens.
• We know they left behind one American hostage held by the Taliban. His name is Mark Freichs.
• Blinken recited the obligatory diplospeak: “More than half the world’s countries have joined us in insisting that the Taliban let people travel outside Afghanistan freely. As of today, more than 100 countries have said that they expect the Taliban to honor travel authorizations by our countries. And just a few hours ago, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution that enshrines that responsibility – laying the groundwork to hold the Taliban accountable if they renege. So, the international chorus on this is strong, and it will stay strong. We will hold the Taliban to their commitment on freedom of movement for foreign nationals, visa holders, at-risk Afghans.”
• Translation: We are entirely dependent on the kindness of strangers — terrorist strangers.
• Blinken provided this unreassuring reassurance: “The Taliban has made a commitment to prevent terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base for external operations that could threaten the United States or our allies, including al-Qaida and the Taliban’s sworn enemy, ISIS-K.”
• “Going forward,” Blinken stated, “any engagement with a Taliban-led government in Kabul will be driven by one thing only: our vital national interests.” Yet our departure has betrayed our vital national interests.
• Blinken could not be much clearer that he was dishing out a complete and utter crock: “Our message is: any legitimacy and any support will have to be earned. The Taliban can do that by meeting commitments and obligations – on freedom of travel; respecting the basic rights of the Afghan people, including women and minorities; upholding its commitments on counterterrorism; not carrying out reprisal violence against those who choose to stay in Afghanistan; and forming an inclusive government that can meet the needs and reflect the aspirations of the Afghan people.”
• “The main point I want to drive home here today is that America’s work in Afghanistan continues. We have a plan for what’s next. We’re putting it into action.”
• “Work” is a term of art. It requires translation. It seems to mean “humanitarian aid to the Afghan people.”
• Where was Biden? He gave no public remarks on the departure. Rather, the White House released a written statement. He is to “address the American people on [his] decision not to extend our presence in Afghanistan beyond August 31” this afternoon.
• Biden’s statement turns to the military: “For now, I will report that it was the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs and of all of our commanders on the ground to end our airlift mission as planned. Their view was that ending our military mission was the best way to protect the lives of our troops, and secure the prospects of civilian departures for those who want to leave Afghanistan in the weeks and months ahead.”
• Biden only indirectly acknowledged the Americans he left behind: “I have asked the Secretary of State to lead the continued coordination with our international partners to ensure safe passage for any Americans, Afghan partners, and foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan.”
• This episode has comprehensively disgraced our political, military, intelligence, and diplomatic establishments.
• We have stood witness to the epic national humiliation of the United States by Biden and his administration. As of today, the only official or officer to pay any price is Marine Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Scheller, who was relieved of his command for seeking accountability somewhere higher up in the chain of command.
• President Franklin Roosevelt designated December 7, 1941 a “date which will live in infamy.” The infamy attached to Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. By the same token, August 30, 2021 is a date which will live in infamy, though in this case the infamy has been brought to us by the president himself.