After action review: Biden’s response

Last week the State Department released a heavily redacted public version of its After Action Review on Afghanistan. I noted the report here. It was released on the Friday afternoon preceding the long holiday weekend — it can’t have been good news for our senescent president.

A reporter asked Biden about the report as he exited from his remarks condemning the Supreme Court for its decision holding him to have acted in excess of his authority forgiving some $430 billion in student debt (White House transcript here). The reporter framed the question this way: “Mr. President, do you admit failure in Afghanistan? Mistakes? There was a — there was a report on Afghanistan withdrawal, saying there was failure, mistakes. Do you admit there was mistakes during the withdrawal and before?

Biden responded: “No, no. All the evidence is coming back. Do you remember what I said about Afghanistan? I said al Qaeda would not be there. I said it wouldn’t be there. I said we’d get help from the Taliban. What’s happening now? What’s going on? Read your press. I was right.”

David Loyn is a visiting senior fellow in the War Studies Department at King’s College, London and author of The Long War: The Inside Story of America and Afghanistan Since 9/11. He has cruelly taken up Biden’s response in the Spectator column “Biden is in fantasy land over the Taliban’s terrorist links,” which the Spectator’s Matt McDonald has made accessible at our request. Loyn finds Biden’s response ill-informed or willfully deceptive:

The president was not right. In fact, he was wrong. What he was referring to was a commitment by the Taliban to support operations against international terrorists operating in Afghanistan. Not only has that commitment been broken, but links between the Taliban and al-Qaeda are said to be “strong and symbiotic,” with al-Qaeda now “rebuilding operational capability” from its base in Afghanistan. So close are the ties that the Afghan ministry of defense now uses al-Qaeda training manuals.

This has all been outlined in a UN report published last month which could not have been clearer:

Promises made by the Taliban in August 2021 to be more inclusive, break with terrorist groups, respect universal human rights, grant a general amnesty and not pose a security threat to other countries seem increasingly hollow, if not plain false, in 2023.

Biden appealed to people to “Read your press”; that UN report was indeed reported in the press, including the (US-government funded) Voice of America news network only four days before he spoke. It was published under the headline: “Taliban flouts terrorism commitments by appointing al-Qaeda-affiliated governors.” It is hard to know how this was missed by his staff.

The disconnect between the president’s wishful thinking and reality is caused by his continuing need to justify the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan and its consequences. They have not only been terrible for the people of the country, ending all opportunities for women and girls, but turned Afghanistan once again into a crucible for international terrorists.

The UN report says that more than twenty groups now operate under Taliban protection, with secure training camps and passports for fighters. This is all in plain sight.

Some of the training camps full of foreign fighters can be seen in former international bases close to the center of Kabul on the Jalalabad road. Many of the groups are opposed to governments in neighboring countries, including China, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, developing into what the UN calls a “serious threat to Central Asia in the longer term.”

Loyn cites the UN report posted here (it takes some digging to find it) as well as the June 26 VOA story “Taliban Flouts Terrorism Commitments by Appointing al-Qaida-Affiliated Governors.” They seem to be dispositive of the question raised by Biden’s comments.

VOA also covered the UN report on the Taliban’s links to terrorist groups in the June 14 story “UN Report Warns Al-Qaida, Islamic State Growing in Afghanistan.” The VOA quotes unnamed US intelligence officials disagreeing with the UN report. However:

The U.S. officials who spoke to VOA were unable to explain the divergence between the assessments of al-Qaida and IS-Khorasan as presented in the U.N. report and those of the U.S. intelligence community, noting previous reports by the U.N. sanctions monitoring team have tracked much more closely with Washington’s own findings.

But a source familiar with the production of the report, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told VOA that U.S. officials were aware of the conclusions before it was published and did not raise objections.

The source also said that there appeared to be some disagreement among U.S. agencies, with some falling in line with some of the U.N.’s findings.

As I say, the Spectator has at present made Loyn’s column accessible. Please check out the whole thing here.

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