WASHINGTON – The US made a fatal mistake last year when it declined the Taliban’s offer to allow American troops to secure Kabul during their botched withdrawal, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee argued in a report released this week.

After the Western-backed Afghan government collapsed on Aug. 15, 2021, Taliban representatives told senior American military officials they would stay out of Kabul if the US agreed to secure the city, “telling the Americans, ‘we want you to take it,’” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said in the 115-page report.

Instead, the US declined, opting to have Taliban fighters provide security in the city – something former senior defense officials told McCaul’s team “would have allowed the US military to avoid relying on the Taliban to secure the outer perimeter” of Hamid Karzai International Airport, the center of evacuation efforts.

Security forces investigate the aftermath of a bomb explosion that killed 3 outside a bakery on Nawi Sarak Road, in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Security forces investigate the aftermath of a bomb explosion that killed 3 outside a bakery on Nawi Sarak Road, in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
MARCUS YAM/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

“[That was] a task the Taliban proved incapable of performing, leading to the ISIS-K attack that killed 13 US service members, injured 45 additional US servicemembers, and killed 160 Afghans,” the report said, referring to the Aug. 26 suicide bombing just outside the airport.

Allowing the US and allies to secure Kabul could have prevented the bottlenecks and crowding of hopeful evacuees outside the airport, McCaul contended, adding that processing centers could have been set up far from the airport gates, avoided frequent closures caused by teaming crowds.

That crowding ultimately made the airport an ideal target for the Aug. 26 attack at its Abbey Gate, according to the report.

“The chaos at the gates and the Taliban’s inability to control the perimeter meant that US military personnel were closely packed together as they sought to screen would be-evacuees, placing them in a more vulnerable situation that was exploited by the bomber, contributing to the high number of casualties,” the report said.

Even if the bombing could not have been prevented, McCaul said the number of casualties could have been significantly reduced had the US not relied on the Taliban to provide security outside the airport’s perimeter.

“The lack of planning by the Biden administration and their refusal to accept the Taliban’s offer to secure Kabul during the [mission] directly led to the bombing being so deadly,” McCaul said in the report.

Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, told Congress in September of last year that he declined the Taliban’s offer to allow American troops to secure the city because he “did not have the resources to undertake that mission.”

Rep. Michael McCaul
Rep. Michael McCaul said that allowing US and allies to secure Kabul could have prevented the crowding of evacuees, which ultimately made the airport an ideal target for an attack.
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Imag

“That was not why I was there; that was not my instruction,” McKenzie said.

While McKenzie told Fox News on Sept. 4, 2021, that securing Kabul would have required about 15,000-20,000 additional US troops on the ground, the report argued those figures “were predicated on needing to fight the Taliban for control of the city.”

“That would likely not have been needed given it was the Taliban leadership that had asked the US to secure the city,” McCaul wrote.

Fewer American troops would have been needed had the US asked its NATO allies to contribute to the effort, according to the report. However, President Biden’s administration did not tell allies about the offer, British officials told investigators “despite the UK having reportedly explored establishing an international stabilizing force for Kabul without the US”

An unnamed senior defense official also told Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the military did create plans for the US to take charge in Kabul because they believed the White House would have “prohibited [them] from considering such an offer,” according to the report.

That point was backed by consistent statements by the administration both before and after the evacuation ended on Aug. 30, 2021.

Relatives of a victim killed in the bombing attacks at the entrance to the Kabul Airport participate in the burial on the outskirts of Kabul.
Relatives of a victim killed in the bombing attacks at the entrance to the Kabul Airport participate in the burial on the outskirts of Kabul.
MARCUS YAM/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
A plane takes off as Taliban fighters secure the outer perimeter, alongside the American controlled side of of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
A plane takes off as Taliban fighters secure the outer perimeter, alongside the American controlled side of of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
MARCUS YAM/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

“Our objective has never been — and the President has been very clear about this — having a military presence to control Kabul,” then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Aug. 31, 2021.

Despite the death toll and chaos of the evacuation, Biden has repeatedly defended his decision to lean on the Taliban to secure Kabul.

“Asked if he thought it was a mistake to cede responsibility for outer perimeter security at the airport to the Taliban, President Biden [on Aug. 26] says: ‘No, I don’t,’ while continuing to stress it is in the Taliban’s ‘interest’ to cooperate on the evacuation’” McCaul wrote, “despite the US government knowing at the time that such cooperation was no longer a reality.”



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