CNN: US had a secret agreement with the Taliban to bring Americans to the airport

AP Photo/Kathy Gannon

There are really two stories here. The first is about how the US made a deal with the Taliban to get Americans to the airport. The second is why this is being leaked now. So let’s start with the first part:

The US military negotiated a secret arrangement with the Taliban that resulted in Taliban members escorting groups of Americans to the gates of the Kabul airport as they sought to escape Afghanistan, according to two defense officials.

One of the officials also revealed that US special operations forces set up a “secret gate” at the airport and established “call centers” to guide Americans through the evacuation process.

The officials said Americans were notified to gather at pre-set “muster points” close to the airport where the Taliban would gather the Americans, check their credentials and take them a short distance to a gate manned by American forces who were standing by to let them inside amid huge crowds of Afghans seeking to flee…

“It worked, it worked beautifully,” one official said of the arrangement.

I think this story helps answer some questions about the Biden administration’s approach to the withdrawal. For instance: Why was Biden admin. so hesitant to extend the deadline? It turns out we had a secret deal with the Taliban to get Americans from a building near the airport to a secret gate. The Taliban had made it clear they would not accept an extended deadline. Biden could have announced he was going to ignore their wishes but our secret deal to get Americans to the airport would have collapsed. If our exit plan was dependent on their cooperation we couldn’t very well ignore their wishes.

France, Germany and the UK all sent Special Forces into the country whose only job was to round up citizens and bring them to the airport. But it seems this secret deal with the Taliban represents the Biden administration’s alternative approach to the same problem.

Secondly, there have been reports for several days that the administration gave lists of Americans to the Taliban. The concern was that giving the Taliban a list of Americans would put those Americans in danger. The Biden administration’s response to those stories has been all over the map. Biden himself said there may have been individual cases where lists were provided to the Taliban but Sunday Sec. of State Blinken came close to a complete denial of the story while still acknowledging some lists were provided:

“The idea that we shared lists of Americans or others with the Taliban is simply wrong,” Blinken said flatly.

But then Blinken appeared to acknowledge the same thing the others have acknowledged: that some names were shared as part of the evacuation process. He even acknowledged this while using the phrase “names on a list.”

“In specific instances when you’re trying to get a bus or a group of people through, and you need to show a manifest to do that,” he said. He noted that some people won’t have documentation, so “you’ll share names on a list of people on the bus so they can be assured that those are people that we’re looking to bring in. And by definition, that’s exactly what’s happened.”

It’s not clear if those lists have any direct connection to this secret operation but if we had a secret agreement with the Taliban to bring Americans into the airport, that might explain why the Biden administration was not terribly concerned about giving lists to the Taliban. If you’re already trusting the Taliban to bring groups of Americans to the airport several times a day, the danger of a list seems pretty remote.

Finally, as mentioned above, there’s the question of why this story is being leaked now. In part it could be because the secret gate at the airport doesn’t need to be kept secret anymore. But the people leaking this story clearly see it as a total success. (“It worked, it worked beautifully.”) So it’s possible this leak is intended to bolster the Biden administration even as it is still taking some heat from the media over Americans and Afghans left behind.