Pentagon officials "disgusted" at how many Afghan helpers will be left behind

AP Photo/Abdul Khaliq

In an uncharacteristic development for a Democratic White House, the Biden administration is starting to leak like a sieve. We’re seeing an increasing number of officials in all branches of the government and the military going to reporters and speaking off-the-record about their dissatisfaction and anger at how the evacuation of Kabul is going. One of the biggest complaints concerns the number of Afghan translators and other helpers that will be left behind to face the Taliban, with almost certain death being the fate of many of them. NBC News has collected a number of these stories, describing a sense of “fury and disgust” among officials from the CIA, the Pentagon and even some Democrats in Congress. We’re used to seeing American politics play out as a team sport, with each side sticking up for their own “team” and tearing down anyone on the opposite side. But Joe Biden seems to have accomplished what previously seemed impossible. He’s fulfilled his campaign promise to bring the country together, but he probably didn’t think they would be uniting in their anger over how he’s handling the end of the war in Afghanistan.

With President Joe Biden intending to stick to the Aug. 31 deadline for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan, it’s becoming clear that thousands of the Afghans who helped the U.S. won’t be evacuated, a scenario that has engendered deep frustration inside U.S. national security agencies.

“People are furious and disgusted,” said a former U.S. intelligence official who declined to be quoted by name. A defense official said he grew nauseated as he considered how many Afghan allies would be left behind.

At the CIA, “officers feel a real sense of obligation, moral obligation and personal obligation” to the Afghans they supported and trained, said former CIA Director John Brennan, an NBC News national security consultant.

Multiple officials from Homeland Security vented their anger at the State Department for not starting the expedited processing of special access visas sooner. Pentagon officials expressed their concerns over how the final US troops to leave could be pinned down and attacked now that there are so many Taliban, al Qaeda, and ISIS fighters surrounding the airport. Others fumed over the failure to anticipate incompatibilities in immigration processing databases, slowing processing in places like Qatar to a crawl.

A lot of the finger-pointing in this blame game is focusing on mistakes being made right now. But while there’s plenty of that going on, we can’t ignore the foundational causes of this chaos. I would remind everyone that we know for certain that there was never any official plan to pull off a complete evacuation. We heard it from Joe Biden himself. As recently as the middle of July, Biden was still saying that the idea that the Taliban could topple the government in “as little as six months” was “highly unlikely.” (In reality, it didn’t even take six days.) In those same linked remarks, Biden said he planned on keeping the embassy in operation in the Green Zone to work in cooperation with the new government, whatever that wound up looking like.

Joe Biden was as wrong as he could be about all of that. Both the Afghan military and the government we helped establish disappeared almost overnight. The fact that we failed to anticipate that and didn’t put a plan in place to get everyone out of the country before the Taliban could get organized is why we’re in the situation we’re facing right now. That should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention. There was no plan because Biden wouldn’t listen to everyone telling him how this was going to play out. He insisted that the Taliban was unable to do precisely what they wound up doing and now a lot of people are going to pay the price for that error.

So if there is “fury and disgust” among the President’s own people, should we really be surprised? We could have been quietly moving people out since the early spring without making any public announcement. The nonessential personnel and the Afghan helpers could have been among the first to go. But none of that happened. If we hadn’t surrendered the Bagram airfield, we would have had two ports of departure instead of one, and Bagram was much more defensible. That was another unforced error that we’re paying for dearly this week. Historians will have some heavy lifting to do when recording the end of the American war in Afghanistan and I somehow doubt they will be painting Joe Biden in a very favorable light.