If the last week is an example of the adults being in charge, we should all pine for the guy who fired off mean tweets and sent the Ayatollah’s favorite terrorist home in a tiny box. The Biden administration press briefings from the Pentagon and White House today upended any messages CENTCOM or President Biden conveyed yesterday. Perhaps we are witnessing peak incompetence. Or maybe lying all the time is getting confusing.
This morning Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby had a bizarre exchange with Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin. Griffin asked Kirby how the administration was confident the Taliban had no role in the suicide bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport. She inquired if General Kenneth McKenzie ruled out this possibility because the U.S. is dependent on them for security at the facility.
Kirby denied that McKenzie had ruled out involvement by the Taliban in yesterday’s CENTCOM briefing. McKenzie certainly seemed to reject the idea the Taliban were involved. When a reporter asked him if he trusted the Taliban or had any concerns they let the attack happen, McKenzie replied, “As to whether they let it happen, I don’t know. I don’t think there is anything to convince me they let it happen.” He then explained the Taliban have a practical reason to want the U.S. to evacuate on time, so a common purpose existed. The logical conclusion from his statements would be they are helping us to leave as quickly as possible.
Griffin went on to ask Kirby, “How many ISIS-K prisoners were left at Bagram and believed to have been released from the prison there and why weren’t they removed before the U.S. pulled out to someplace like Gitmo?” Kirby responded it was clearly in the thousands when calculating the number from both facilities. He defended the decision not to move them by saying the intent was to have the Afghan military take over the responsibilities for the prisoners.
When Major General Hank Taylor took questions, Griffin asked, “Can you give us any more clarification on the sharing of American citizens’ information as well as SIV information with the Taliban? There were reports yesterday U.S. officials were sharing that information.” Taylor responded, “I don’t think there is sharing of information as you would say in that question.”
But Gen. McKenzie reported on Thursday that the U.S. is sharing intelligence from threat monitoring activities around the airport with the Taliban. “We do share versions of that information with the Taliban so they can actually do some searching for us, and we believe some attacks have been thwarted by them. We have been doing this since [August] 14th.”
All of this provides absolutely no clarity about the Taliban’s potential role in the airport bombing and our relationship with them at this point. They were involved, or they weren’t. And we share information with them, or we don’t. Fantastic. At least we know the Pentagon believes we have a common goal with a bunch of terrorists. That mission is getting the American military out of the country as fast as possible whether we finish the evacuation or not.
Perhaps some of the confusion about the Taliban’s role in the attack or the wisdom of working too closely with them has to do with a question Fox News Peter Doocy fired at Press Secretary Jen Psaki. Doocy asked, “As the U.S. is coordinating with the Taliban about security for the next couple days, some people running security for the Taliban in Kabul are terrorists with millions of dollars worth of bounties on their heads. Are we going to try to bring the known terrorists to justice before we leave the country?”
Psaki did not deny Doocy’s assertion about who is outside the airport gates. She said the top priority is doing everything we can to evacuate remaining American citizens “who want to leave” out of the country along with our Afghan partners. She added, “As I just said in response to Phil’s question, this is not a preferred relationship. Or a situation that we would have designed if we started from scratch.”
The problem is they did start from scratch. President Trump planned to withdraw by May 1, with conditions and a completely different order of operations. According to Trump Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, this did not include abandoning Bagram Air Base first and in the middle of the night. The decision to do that lies squarely with President Biden, and so do the failures that have followed that decision.
Psaki’s provided an absurd answer when Philip Wegmann asked her for the basis to leave the base. Psaki asserted, “Bagram was an enormous base that required an enormous presence. It also made it, and also it has a significant difference, uh distance I should say, from Kabul. Significant is all relative. It’s farther away from Kabul. So it would have required quite a presence to protect. And it wasn’t located in a place that would have been as effective in evacuating people who were located in Kabul.”
According to Google maps, that distance from Bagram to Kabul is an hour and a half driving. I am not now nor have I ever been a military strategist, but some of this is just common sense. Reports tell us Bagram was full of equipment that can fly and, if necessary, drop explosives. The drones left behind can conduct surgical strikes, like the one that sent Qasem Soleimani home in a box the size of a Kleenex box. Now those tools are in the hands of our enemies.
There were fewer U.S. soldiers stationed at Bagram before abandoning it than the 6,000 or so digging in at Hamid Karzai International Airport now. People needing to evacuate were all over the country, and U.S. embassy staff could have easily consolidated to the base rather than the single-runway airport. Somehow, Psaki’s explanation leaves more open questions than it answers. The administration’s press briefings are contradicting each other, leading to more confusion. Long term, this only decreases confidence.
It might be better to just tell the truth. Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan has been immoral, unconscionable, and embarrassing. The idea that we are relying on a bunch of 8th Century goat herders with our weapons to protect us is horrific. It is the direct result of a brand of moral relativism that will cause the deaths of thousands of Afghans who embraced our values — only to be abandoned.