Forget everything you’ve heard from the Biden administration about planning for every contingency in Afghanistan. Forget everything you believe about the United States being the most powerful country in the free world. On August 18, 2021, United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was asked at a Pentagon press corps briefing if the U.S. military could get its citizens out of Afghanistan. He provided an answer National Review called “jaw-dropping.”
Austin told the reporters: “We don’t have the capability to go out and collect large numbers of people.” The mind boggles at how the top military leader of the entire free world would have the temerity to make such an admission, having just given Congress a defense budget of $715 billion so that America can remain the most powerful nation on Earth. Dan McLaughlin, in his National Review article “No American Military Leader Should Ever Say What Lloyd Austin Said,” reported:
“The best Austin could offer was a promise to try, at least for a while: ‘We’re gonna get everyone that we can possibly evacuate evacuated, and I’ll do that as long as we possibly can, until the clock runs out, or we run out of capability… I don’t have the capability to go out and extend operations currently into Kabul.’”
What comes to mind hearing Austin’s response is the wisdom of Master Yoda: “No. Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” This may seem inappropriate, making light of a dire situation, but no more so than the absurd notion that the United States does not have the capability to find Americans and evacuate them. The Daily Mail reports that the U.K. government deployed special operations forces to rescue as many as 4,000 of its citizens. In the same article, David Williams and Mark Nicol reported:
“SAS soldiers arrived in Kabul last night, and they join the Paras and Special Forces, an RAF air traffic team and medical staff. Military commanders have also placed Royal Marine Commandos on standby in case greater forces are needed to escort convoys of British citizens – and Afghans – to the airport through the packed streets of Kabul, which are well known to the Taliban. A senior military source said: ‘I doubt we are just going to land and evacuate people. Somehow, we need to get those who are entitled to fly to the airfield – it will be a hell of a challenge.’”
Meanwhile, the Military Times reports that “as the Defense Department continues to stick to its plans of not reaching out into Kabul to assist US personnel and Afghan helpers evacuate, British and French forces have done so to rescue their citizens, multiple outlets report.” But the U.S. Defense Department is worried about some mysterious clock running out. What clock? Secretary Austin and the president set that August 31 clock – and they could reset it, if they wanted to, and let the Taliban worry about how long it takes.
Handcuffing the Military
The Daily Mail’s Chris Pleasance reported that NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, speaking for the US-NATO allies, “begged Joe Biden not to leave Kabul and urged the US to stay at the airport to get as many people out as possible – as American forces are accused of hiding behind the wire while British and European troops mount recuse missions into the city.” The pleas for the U.S. national security team are against a backdrop of a situation at Hamid Karzai International Airport where “American soldiers appear to be under strict orders not to leave the airport.” U.S. soldiers are standing fast because the Washington, D.C. leadership is dithering. At the same time, “the chaos outside the airport appears to be growing by the day and is causing dangerous stampedes in which several people have already been killed this week, including a 14-year-old girl.” One can only imagine how galling it is for America’s professional, trained, and courageous fighting force to be put in this untenable circumstance.
According to the transcript of the recent August 18 Pentagon press briefing, standing with Secretary Austin was the chairman of the joint chiefs, U.S. Army General Mark Milley. After providing the assembled journalist with a gratuitous explanation of how America got into this mess, Milley said: “This likely to be probably the second-largest NEO [non-combatant evacuation operation] conducted by the United States.” He then went into a plethora of platitudes and useless explanations about how “dangerous, very dynamic, and very fluid” the situation is in Kabul.
And then Milley made what history will surely record as one of the most breathtakingly naïve and ill-informed statements. He said, with all the certainty that comes with four shiny stars on his shoulders: “Currently, the security situation at the airport is stable. However, there are threats, and we’re closely monitoring those at any moment they could happen. We can identify them.” He then described the planning that was done and all the ground forces and air support capability that was part of contingency plans. As Milley put it, “these plans are coordinated, synchronized, and rehearsed to deal with these various scenarios. One of those contingencies is what we are executing right now.” So, American’s can take solace in the fact that the chairman of the joint chiefs believes that what the world is seeing in Kabul is a “coordinated, synchronized, and rehearsed” plan.
The chaos in and around Kabul and the airport grows steadily worse. It’s safe to say the desperate circumstances that American citizens trapped in Afghanistan find themselves in and the Biden administration’s failure to respond effectively is just agonizingly embarrassing and pitiful. What is more troubling is that the Pentagon leadership is so totally out of touch with the disaster taking place in the Kabul battlespace. When one considers Austin’s statement about not having the capability to rescue Americans, McLaughlin’s subtitle, “Can you imagine Norman Schwarzkopf – to say nothing of Dwight Eisenhower or Douglas MacArthur – making this statement?” rings painfully true.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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