“Biden betrayal of Afghan will live in infamy”

This is the title of George Packer’s March 2022 Atlantic article about how Biden abandoned the Afghans who supported the United States during “the endless war.”

I have posted about how the United States has admitted 5% of the internationally displaced persons driven out of their counties due to post 9/11 anti-terrorist American wars. I also posted about a number of evacuations to the U.S. arising from our wars.

Packer’s 20,000-word article focuses on the indifference of the White House to the effects of the impending withdrawal of American troops.

The article is replete with desperate actions by individuals and groups of Americans to rescue their allies. For example, the Iraqi (later International) Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) founded in 2008, the leading legal-assistance group for Special Immigration Visa applicants. Packer also narrates the harrowing lives of a handful of Afghans seeking to get out of the country in the last days of August, 2021.

Here are a few excerpts:

[In the face of appeals by congressmen and private citizens] the administration countered every urgent proposal with objections so unconvincing that they suggested a deeper, unexpressed resistance [fear of association with the fall of Saigon.]

Human Rights First estimates that 90 percent of SIVs—including some with visas in hand—were left behind with their families. The number of Afghans who remain in danger because of their association with the 20-year American presence in their country must be counted in the hundreds of thousands.

SIV applicants and their families numbered about 80,000 people. But after 20 years, far more Afghans than these had put themselves in danger by joining the American project in their country: rights activists, humanitarian workers, journalists, judges, students and teachers at American-backed universities, special-forces commandos. A full accounting would reach the hundreds of thousands. Many of them were women, and most were under 40—the generation of Afghans who came of age in the time of the Americans.

Some[rescue] groups—West Point alums, retired Special Forces operators, women’s-rights advocates—grew to several hundred and acquired names like Task Force Dunkirk and Task Force Pineapple. They spanned time zones and continents. Other groups consisted of three or four friends working their contacts.

Mike Breen, of Human Rights First, told me that the administration “took the life-and-death decisions that should have been at the highest level of the government and sent them down to the lowest level, which is a pretty good metaphor for the whole war. It ended as it was fought. Same old story.”

Many of the troops quickly realized that escorting a newly orphaned child onto a plane to a new life would be the most important mission of their lives. “This is going to be our legacy,” the paratrooper said, “whether we do two years in the Army, or 20 years, or 40 years.” Representative Tom Malinowski put it this way: “This was a situation where knowing the secretary of state and the national security adviser personally was vastly less valuable than knowing a Marine major on the airfield.”

On July 8, Biden had claimed that “fewer than half” of SIV holders had chosen to leave. This became a persistent talking point, and a false one: Almost all of the remaining Afghans with visas were in official limbo, waiting for the United Nations to put them on flights to the U.S., or for family members to receive passports and visas. The president, echoed by his officials, was trying to blame the Afghans for their own entrapment.

While waiting for Kabul to fall, the administration could have timed the military withdrawal to support evacuations, rather than pulling out all the hard assets while leaving all the soft targets behind. It could have created an interagency task force, vested with presidential authority and led by an evacuations czar—the only way to force different agencies to coordinate resources in order to solve a problem that is limited in scope but highly complex. It could have assembled comprehensive lists of thousands of names, locations, email addresses, and phone numbers—not just for interpreters like Khan, but for others at risk, including women like Hawa. It could have begun to quietly organize flights on commercial aircraft in the spring—moving 1,000 people a week—and gradually increased the numbers. It could have used the prospect of lifting sanctions and giving international recognition to a future Taliban government as leverage, demanding secure airfields and safe passage for Afghans whom the Americans wanted to bring out with them. It could have used airfields in Herāt, Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad, and Kandahar while those cities remained out of Taliban control. It could have drawn up emergency plans for Afghan evacuations and rehearsed them in interagency drills. It could have included NATO allies in the planning. It could have shown imagination and initiative. But the administration did none of these.

On April 14, 1975, as North Vietnamese divisions raced toward Saigon, the 32-year-old first-term senator from Delaware was summoned to the White House. President Gerald Ford pleaded with him and other senators for funding to evacuate Vietnamese allies. Biden refused. “I feel put-upon,” he said. He would vote for money to bring out the remaining Americans, but not one dollar for the locals. On April 23, as South Vietnam’s collapse accelerated, Biden repeated the point on the Senate floor. “I do not believe the United States has an obligation, moral or otherwise, to evacuate foreign nationals” other than diplomats, he said. That was the job of private organizations. “The United States has no obligation to evacuate one, or 100,001, South Vietnamese.”

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