Intelligence Warned of Afghanistan Military Collapse, Despite Biden’s Assurances

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Even arsenic the president was telling the nationalist that Kabul was improbable to fall, quality assessments painted a grimmer picture.

Taliban fighters person  taken implicit    successful  Kabul, the superior  of Aghanistan.
Credit...Hoshang Hashimi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Aug. 17, 2021Updated 1:13 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — Classified assessments by American spy agencies implicit the summertime painted an progressively grim representation of the imaginable of a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and warned of the accelerated illness of the Afghan military, adjacent arsenic President Biden and his advisers said publically that was improbable to hap arsenic quickly, according to existent and erstwhile American authorities officials.

By July, galore quality reports grew much pessimistic, questioning whether immoderate Afghan information forces would muster superior absorption and whether the authorities could clasp connected successful Kabul, the capital. President Biden said connected July 8 that the Afghan authorities was improbable to fall and that determination would beryllium nary chaotic evacuations of Americans akin to the extremity of the Vietnam War.

The drumbeat of warnings implicit the summertime rise questions astir wherefore Biden medication officials, and subject planners successful Afghanistan, seemed ill-prepared to woody with the Taliban’s final propulsion into Kabul, including a nonaccomplishment to guarantee information astatine the main airport and rushing thousands much troops backmost to the state to protect the United States’ last exit.

One study successful July — arsenic dozens of Afghan districts were falling and Taliban fighters were laying siege to respective large cities — laid retired the increasing risks to Kabul, noting that the Afghan authorities was unprepared for a Taliban assault, according to a idiosyncratic acquainted with the intelligence.

Intelligence agencies predicted that should the Taliban prehend cities, a cascading illness could hap rapidly and the Afghan information forces were astatine precocious hazard of falling apart. It is unclear whether different reports during this play presented a much optimistic representation astir the quality of the Afghan subject and the authorities successful Kabul to withstand the insurgents.

A humanities investigation provided to Congress concluded that the Taliban had learned lessons from their takeover of the state successful the 1990s. This time, the study said, the militant radical would archetypal unafraid borderline crossings, commandeer provincial capitals and prehend swaths of the country’s northbound earlier moving successful connected Kabul, a prediction that proved accurate.

But cardinal American decisions were made agelong earlier July, erstwhile the statement among quality agencies was that the Afghan authorities could bent connected for arsenic agelong arsenic 2 years, which would person near ample clip for an orderly exit. On April 27, erstwhile the State Department ordered the departure of nonessential unit from the embassy successful Kabul, the wide quality appraisal was inactive that a Taliban takeover was astatine slightest 18 months away, according to medication officials.

One elder medication official, who spoke connected the information of anonymity to sermon the classified quality reports, said that adjacent by July, arsenic the concern grew much volatile, quality agencies ne'er offered a wide prediction of an imminent Taliban takeover. The authoritative said their assessments were besides not fixed a “high confidence” judgment, the agencies’ highest level of certainty.

As precocious arsenic a week earlier Kabul’s fall, the wide quality investigation was that a Taliban takeover was not yet inevitable, the authoritative said.

Spokeswomen for the C.I.A. and the manager of nationalist quality declined to sermon the assessments fixed to the White House. But quality officials acknowledged that their agencies’ investigation had been sober and that the assessments had changed successful caller weeks and months.

During his code connected Monday, Mr. Biden said that his medication “planned for each contingency” successful Afghanistan but that the concern “did unfold much rapidly than we had anticipated.”

Facing wide grounds of the illness of Afghan forces, American officials person begun to formed blasted internally, including statements from the White House that person suggested an quality failure. Such finger-pointing often occurs aft large nationalist information breakdowns, but it volition instrumentality weeks oregon months for a much implicit representation to look of the decision-making successful the Biden medication that led to the chaos successful Kabul successful caller days.

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Biden Defends U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan

President Biden said helium stood “squarely behind” the determination to retreat U.S. forces from Afghanistan contempt a Taliban takeover of the country, and the illness of the Afghan authorities and military.

We went to Afghanistan astir 20 years agone with wide goals: Get those who attacked america connected Sept. 11, 2001, and marque definite Al Qaeda could not usage Afghanistan arsenic a basal from which to onslaught america again. We did that. We severely degraded Al Qaeda successful Afghanistan. We ne'er gave up the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and we got him. That was a decennary ago. Our ngo successful Afghanistan was ne'er expected to person been nation-building. When I came into office, I inherited a woody that President Trump negotiated with the Taliban. Under his agreement, U.S. forces would beryllium retired of Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. The prime I had to marque arsenic your president was either to travel done connected that statement oregon beryllium prepared to spell backmost to warring the Taliban successful the mediate of the outpouring warring season. It was lone a acold world of either pursuing done connected the statement to retreat our forces oregon escalating the conflict, and sending thousands much American troops backmost into combat successful Afghanistan, lurching into the 3rd decennary of conflict. I basal squarely down my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard mode that determination was ne'er a bully clip to retreat U.S. forces. This did unfold much rapidly than we had anticipated. So what’s happened? Afghanistan governmental leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan subject collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight. If anything, the developments of the past week reenforce that ending U.S. subject engagement successful Afghanistan present was the close decision. American troops cannot and should not beryllium warring successful a warfare and dying successful a warfare that Afghan forces are not consenting to combat for themselves.

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President Biden said helium stood “squarely behind” the determination to retreat U.S. forces from Afghanistan contempt a Taliban takeover of the country, and the illness of the Afghan authorities and military.CreditCredit...Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Intelligence agencies person agelong predicted an eventual Taliban victory, adjacent earlier President Donald J. Trump and Mr. Biden decided to retreat forces. Those estimates provided a scope of timelines. While they raised questions astir the volition of the Afghan information forces to combat without Americans by their side, they did not foretell a illness wrong weeks.

But successful caller months, assessments became ever much pessimistic arsenic the Taliban made larger gains, according to existent and erstwhile officials. The reports this summertime questioned successful stark presumption the volition of Afghan information forces to combat and the quality of the Kabul authorities to clasp power. With each study of wide desertions, a erstwhile authoritative said, the Afghan authorities looked little stable.

Another C.I.A. study successful July noted that the information forces and cardinal authorities had mislaid power of the roads starring into Kabul and assessed that the viability of the cardinal authorities was successful superior jeopardy. Other reports by the State Department’s quality and probe part besides noted the nonaccomplishment of Afghan forces to combat the Taliban and suggested the deteriorating information conditions could pb to the illness of the government, according to authorities officials.

“The concern of quality is not to accidental you cognize connected Aug. 15 the Afghan government’s going to fall,” said Timothy S. Bergreen, a erstwhile unit manager for the House Intelligence Committee. “But what everybody knew is that without the stiffening of the planetary forces and specifically our forces, the Afghans were incapable of defending oregon governing themselves.”

Afghanistan received small attraction successful the yearly menace appraisal released successful April by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; but the little treatment was dire, noting the Taliban was assured it could execute a subject victory.

“The Taliban is apt to marque gains connected the battlefield, and the Afghan authorities volition conflict to clasp the Taliban astatine bay if the conjugation withdraws support,” the study said.

But existent and erstwhile officials said that portion it was existent that the C.I.A. predicted a illness of the Afghan government, it was often hard to get bureau analysts to intelligibly foretell however rapidly that would occur, particularly arsenic Mr. Trump and past Mr. Biden made decisions connected however accelerated to gully down troops.

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Credit...Associated Press

Two erstwhile elder Trump medication officials who reviewed immoderate of the C.I.A.’s assessments of Afghanistan said the quality agencies did present warnings astir the spot of the Afghan authorities and information forces. But the bureau resisted giving an nonstop clip framework and the assessments could often beryllium interpreted successful a assortment of ways, including concluding that Afghanistan could autumn rapidly oregon perchance implicit time.

Sharp disagreements person besides persisted successful the quality community. The C.I.A. for years has been pessimistic astir the grooming of the Afghan information forces. But the Defense Intelligence Agency and different quality shops wrong the Pentagon delivered much optimistic assessments astir the Afghans’ preparedness, according to existent and erstwhile officials.

Military and quality assessments predicting that the authorities successful Kabul could clasp connected astatine slightest a twelvemonth earlier a Taliban takeover were built connected a premise that proved to beryllium flawed: that the Afghan service would enactment up a fight.

“Most of the U.S. assessments wrong and extracurricular the U.S. authorities had focused connected however good the Afghan information forces would fare successful a combat with the Taliban. In reality, they ne'er truly fought” during the Taliban blitz crossed the country, said Seth G. Jones, an Afghanistan adept astatine the Center for Strategic and International Studies successful Washington.

Two decades ago, this dynamic played retired successful reverse. When U.S.-backed Afghan militias began capturing territory from the Taliban successful precocious 2001, Taliban fighters folded comparatively quickly, and some Kabul and Kandahar fell earlier the extremity of that year.

Some Taliban surrendered, immoderate switched sides, and acold larger numbers simply melted into the colonisation to statesman readying what would go a 20-year insurgency.

Intelligence officials person agelong observed that Afghans marque acold calculations astir who is apt to prevail successful a struggle and backmost the winning side, a maneuver that allows for battlefield gains to accumulate rapidly until a tipping constituent turns the combat into a rout, according to existent and erstwhile analysts.

At the halfway of the American nonaccomplishment successful Afghanistan was the inability to physique a information unit that could basal connected its own, but that mistake was compounded by Washington’s nonaccomplishment to perceive to those raising questions astir the Afghan military.

Part of the problem, according to erstwhile officials, is that the can-do cognition of the subject often got successful the mode of candid close assessments of however the Afghan information forces were doing. Though nary 1 was unsighted to desertions oregon battlefield losses, American commanders fixed the task of grooming the Afghan subject were reluctant to admit their efforts were failing.

Even those successful the subject skeptical of the skills of the Afghan information forces believed they would proceed to combat for a clip aft the Americans left.

For months, quality officials person been making comparisons betwixt the Afghan nationalist information forces and the South Vietnamese service astatine the extremity of the Vietnam War. It took 2 years for South Vietnam’s military, known by the American acronym ARVN, to illness aft the United States withdrew troops and fiscal support. Optimists believed the Afghan subject — with American backing — could past astir arsenic long. Pessimists thought it would beryllium acold shorter.

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Credit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

“For the past 2 oregon 3 years I person been ruefully remarking that A.N.S.F. is Afghan for ARVN,” said Mr. Bergreen, who worked connected quality matters connected Capitol Hill from 2003 to 2021. “There was an acknowledgment that the Afghan forces were not up to the semipermanent fight. But I don’t deliberation anyone expected them to melt distant rather that fast.”

Recent Taliban diplomatic maneuvers with different countries successful the region, most notably China, lent an aerial of inevitability to a Taliban takeover that further demoralized Afghan authorities troops, Mr. Jones said.

In the end, analysts said, the Taliban won with the strategy that has truthful often proved palmy during Afghanistan’s galore decades of warfare — they outlasted their opponent.

“​​I americium not that amazed it was arsenic accelerated and sweeping arsenic it was,” said Lisa Maddox, a erstwhile C.I.A. analyst. “The Taliban surely has shown their quality to persevere, hunker down and travel backmost adjacent aft they person been beaten back. And you person a colonisation that is truthful bushed and weary of struggle that they are going to flip and enactment the winning broadside truthful they tin survive.”

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