Classified intelligence documents collected and assessed by U.S agencies since the middle of July warned of the Taliban’s growing strength and influence at the expense of the faltering Afghan military.
By the middle of July, many intelligence reports were growing more and more pessimistic about the Afghan army’s military capabilities, raising the question as to whether the Afghan military would be able to hold Kabul and mount any serious resistance to the Taliban. Biden’s Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, was warned that the Taliban were advancing faster than expected and that at their current rate the Afghan government could potentially collapse shortly after the August 31st withdrawal date.
Despite this warning, President Biden asserted on July 8th that a Taliban takeover was “highly unlikely”, and that there was going to be absolutely “no circumstances where you’re going to see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy in the United States from Afghanistan” (a reference to the infamous picture taken at the fall of Saigon in 1975 as the Vietnam War drew to a close).
The fact that the President and his closest advisors received repeated warnings calls into question why the Biden administration was caught so unprepared by the sudden fall of Kabul and the proclamation of an Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan.
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One July report – which came as the Taliban were rapidly overrunning major cities in the country – pointed out that the Afghan government was completely unprepared for a Taliban offensive against Kabul.
U.S intelligence agencies also predicted that if the unrelenting Taliban conquest of Afghan cities wasn’t stopped soon then the Afghan security forces would be at risk of falling apart. Intelligence officials admitted that in the last few weeks and months their intelligence briefs were growing bleak.
Even before both President Trump and President Biden had decided to withdraw U.S forces, intelligence agencies had forecast that the Taliban would eventually overrun the country, however, timelines varied. Indeed, a historical analysis provided for Congress concluded that the Taliban had learned from mistakes made in the 1990s. It predicted that this time the Taliban would first capture border crossings and then move inland to conquer provincial capitals before turning their attention to Kabul – a prediction proved to be accurate.
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The major problem is that key decisions were made in April when reports still believed the Afghan government could hold out for as long as two years. On April 27th when the State Department ordered the departure of nonessential embassy staff, the intelligence still suggested that a Taliban takeover was at least 18 months away.
One senior administration official agreed to discuss the reports under the condition of anonymity. They revealed that assessments weren’t given a “high confidence” judgment, the agency’s highest level of certainty. In fact, as late as a week before Kabul fell, reports suggested that a Taliban takeover was not yet inevitable.
On Monday, Biden defended his decision to withdraw military forces from Afghanistan, saying that his “officials had planned for every contingency,” whilst admitting that the situation descended into chaos “more quickly than we anticipated. He also denied that he was advised by anyone to keep troops in the country, despite reports that Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin warned him that removing all troops risked the country’s stability.