Bagram And Kabul: Mega-Mistakes

No question, the catastrophic chaos, tragedy, and loss that are the recent Afghanistan evacuation operation are the direct result of the unbelievable, unconscionable (purposeful?) mistakes of the current, we fear, unseeing, unknowing, uncaring, seemingly partially-sedated administration in America.  This absolute failure of appropriate planning and sequential execution has both weakened and humiliated our great nation; encouraged our enemies to possibly believe that they may now have “nothing to fear but fear itself,” and returned a stabilized, peaceful Afghanistan to its former haunt as a renewed fertile source of international terrorism, potentially threatening both the U.S. and our European allies, much to the disgust, and likely distrust, of the latter.

But buried within this destructive Afghani ash heap saga, to the relief and appreciation of the administration, ably delivered by the ever-ready distracting help from their joined-at-the-waist (or lower) media partners, are two major and incredibly faulty administration decisions that severely and tragically impacted subsequent events there.

Badly botched, clearly unacceptable, Decision #1:  Abandoning Bagram Air Base.

At one time, this massive airfield complex, located perhaps an hour from Kabul, housed tens of thousands of U.S. military members (and American contractors) at the height of America’s anti-terrorist wartime efforts, and included all the normal on-base facilities, to include even a 50-bed hospital.  But things started to turn south with the actual final drawdown of U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan, announced by Mr. Biden back in the Spring.  With complaints that too many troops were departing too quickly, a critical decision had to be made as to how many U.S. assets could be effectively protected with the remaining troops available.  On that subject, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered the following statement: “Our task given to us at the time (no doubt by the president) was to protect the embassy in order for the embassy personnel to continue to function with their consular service and all of that. If we were to keep both Bagram and the embassy going, that would be a significant number of military forces that would have exceeded what we had, and a decision was made.”

“Decision made,” which was to actually give up Bagram in order to keep the embassy functioning.  Doubtlessly, a fateful decision made by our ever-so-savvy civilian administration.  Knowing the Taliban was by then on the move, that decision proved to be a disastrous one, and certainly not the one our military would have made if given the choice, at least we would hope so.  And the original choice, again, would be whether to keep enough troops in the country to be able to sustain both Bagram and the embassy.  Bagram was simply too vital an asset to walk away from, rational minds would conclude.

But, on July 1st, irrationality took hold, and reportedly in the dead of night, walk away from Bagram America did, some say without clearly informing the incoming Afghan commander. We left, and the lights at the base were turned off, providing an opportunity for looters to enter the airfield in the darkness, stealing whatever they could truck off.  The Afghan military is said not to have discovered the U.S. departure until the following morning! Remarked that reportedly uninformed Afghan commanding general: “We heard some rumors that the Americans had left Bagram…and finally by seven o’clock in the morning, we understood that it was confirmed that they had already left Bagram.”  “In one night, they (U.S.) lost all the good-will of 20-years by leaving the way they did, shutting down, with the base plunged into darkness,” said a ten-year veteran Afghanistan soldier.

America’s response to the claim of zero warning: Operational security concerns prevented specific prior notification. “Miscommunication” was the culprit, American officials claimed.  At that point, then, Bagram Air Base was in the hands of the Afghan Security Forces.  Unfortunately, that would prove to be temporary.  As the Taliban drove aggressively down from the north of the country, rapidly dominating more and more of that nation, it was reported at one point that “hundreds of members of the Afghan Security Forces fled to refuge in neighboring Tajikistan.” Despite the best hopes of the U.S. and Afghanistan, with the departure of the vast majority of American ground forces by that time, including Bagram-based American pilots to provide air power & cover, and American-provided intelligence, resulting directly, it appears, in the dissolution of the Afghan forces, due to the long-term dependence on the Americans.  Bagram fell into enemy hands (“surrendered control without a fight”), as the Taliban completed its sweep throughout the nation.

Responded Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX): “What (General) Milley said on 8/18 (i.e., had to make a choice between protecting Bagram or our embassy in Kabul) is exactly what DoD said in our briefing today (8/28).  They abandoned Bagram because they were ordered to reduce troops levels below that needed to maintain both Bagram & embassy security.  That political decision (i.e., the Biden administration), to close Bagram before evacuation, proved catastrophic.”

Badly botched, clearly unacceptable, Decision #2:  Choosing not to secure Kabul.

Yes, choosing.  Believe it or not, in a face-to-face meeting between U.S. military officials there on the ground, and Taliban co-founder and head of its military wing, Abdul Ghani Baradar, the latter reportedly said to our officials: “We have a problem. We have two options to deal with it (i.e., President Ashraf Ghani suddenly fleeing the country).  You (U.S. military) take responsibility for securing Kabul or you have to allow us to do it.”  Incredibly, the United States military was given the option, by top Taliban military command, of taking control of Afghanistan’s capital city.  Even more incredibly, in a purely political decision, our military leaders were instructed by the civilian administration in D.C. to turn the offer down!  In order, it seems, to stick with the political drawdown timetable of being militarily out of the country by or before August 31st.  If, in hindsight, the administration had done the sensible thing, that is, taking full control of Kabul, “they could have evacuated thousands more Afghan allies (plus, of course, U.S. citizens!) and would have avoided Taliban roadblocks that stopped people from getting to the (civilian) airport.”

When word got out that the former Afghan president had fled Kabul, it’s said that chaos overwhelmed the capital city.  Reportedly, the Taliban leadership never intended to take control, since they had planned for an orderly transition from the prior civilian government. With Ghani gone, the Taliban then had no choice but to take control so as to restore some semblance of order. Said Taliban commander Muhammad Nasir Haqqani, reportedly: “We couldn’t control our emotions, we were so happy.  Most of our fighters were crying.  We never thought we would take Kabul so quickly.”

And then one other very key footnote to the control of Kabul and Bagram Air Base:  At the airfield facility, there was a high-security prison.  Now in control, Taliban officials released  5,000+ “hardened fighters” (Taliban & al-Qaeda!), now free, with a vengeance, to make up for lost time and get back in the fight.   Reportedly, at least some of those freed were thought to be seeking out the judges who had sentenced them, and quite probably not to sit down for a chat.  And one other negative of losing Bagram.  As the Taliban fighters absorbed more and more of the surrounding territory, they also took the time to seek out and murder American-trained Afghan combat pilots, may of whom lived with their families off base.  In doing so, they reduced the ability for Afghan Security (Air) Forces to assist in the fight from the air (recall that American pilots were being withdrawn), while the killings understandably terrified other native pilots, forcing them (with families) to go into hiding, effectively eliminating the air power threat.

There you have it.  Two key strategic errors, among so many others in this tragic mess, committed (ordered, it certainly appears) by an administration driven by political aspirations and deadlines.  Clearly our military leaders, back here and over there on the ground, would have much preferred to maintain control of Bagram.  It would have been far easier and preferable to defend that magnificent airfield complex, for both civilian and military evacuations, than what proved to be disastrous by trying to do so at the civilian airfield, surrounded as it was by Taliban fighters (and likely others with terror intent).  And whether or not we had held onto Bagram, had we agreed to take control of Kabul, as mentioned, we could have maintained a corridor to the civilian airfield and likely evacuated far more citizens and friends than our troops were able to do under very trying, and, sadly, murderous, conditions.

On Tuesday, August 31st, the administration’s come hell or high water politically-driven target date, Mr. Biden spoke to the nation, adding as always, his seemingly tone-deaf persistent blame of President Trump for anything and everything that ever goes wrong. The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, among most other honest news media sources, was not favorably impressed with Mr. Biden’s presentation. Wrote they: “President Biden’s defiant, accusatory defense of his Afghanistan withdrawal and its execution was so dishonest, and so lacking in self-reflection or accountability, that it was unworthy of the sacrifices Americans have made in that conflict. The editors continued: “The uncharitable view (of the presentation) is that he and his advisors have decided that the only way out of this debacle is to lie about it, blame everyone else, and claim that defeat is really a victory. Neither one is reassuring about Mr. Biden’s character, his judgment, or – most ominously – the long three-and-a-half years left in his Presidency.”

Again, it certainly appears that this whole Afghanistan operation was politically, not militarily, driven.  All known American civilians, Afghan interpreters & families, other allies, and those valuable contract bomb-sniffing dogs, should all have been evacuated FIRST.  That’s just common sense, if apparently not political reasoning.  Retain firm control of Bagram to make those evacuations far more successful (and likely with no deaths).  Failing that, then Kabul, for more manageable control over departures from the civilian airfield.  And for heaven sakes, along with getting our troops out last, get far, far, more of our equipment and supplies out of the country with them, or destroy such, rather than leaving it for foreign enemy powers, like China, to gain convenient access to our military technology.

Bottom line to all of this unfortunate, humiliating, and what proved to be a deadly, failure:  Out of a political rush, and the imposed reverse order of departure, it appears, clearly, that our administration simply did not leave enough troops in Afghanistan for a successful evacuation.

NOTE:  In fact, as you know, additional forces had to be sent in to make it happen at all!  More of the actual U.S. reality at work here (political vs. military) is bound to be revealed in the days/weeks ahead, as this entire regrettable and deadly saga continues to unravel.


(Milley quote via, Darragh Roche, 8-28-21; Afghan soldier quote via, Kathy Gannon, 7-6-21; New Bagram commander’s quote via, Becky Sullivan & Tom Bowman, 7-6-21; Afghan forces flee stat via, Reuters, 7-5-21; Cruz quote via, Darragh Roche, 8-28-21; Advantage of taking the Kabul control deal quote via, Morgan Phillips, 8-31-21; WSJ editors quotes via The Wall Street Journal, Editorial Board, 9-1-21; Bottom line conclusion via, John McCormack, 8-18-21).