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Four take-aways from the new Afghanistan collapse analysis

The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

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The big idea

Four take-aways from the new Afghanistan collapse analysis

Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden set the stage for Afghanistan’s collapse and the Taliban’s return to power by pulling out U.S. forces and military contractors before Kabul’s security forces were self-sufficient, according to a new report by a government watchdog.

That may seem obvious. In fact, it was the core conclusion the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reached in a previous report, in May 2022.

Despite 20 years of American help, the Afghans weren’t ready (and might never have been), and the Taliban made big inroads after Trump and the Islamist militia struck the so-called Doha Agreement that set a U.S. withdrawal timeline. Then Biden — a longtime advocate for leaving, no matter what — slightly extended the deadline but ultimately quit the country.

But the new document helps shed light on what happened, taking a long view that stretches back to the earliest days of the U.S. invasion in late 2001, and spreading the blame to U.S. politicians, the military and Afghan leaders.

It comes as Republicans newly in control of the House may be preparing to launch investigations into Biden’s handling of the war. And it could feed rising GOP resistance to military and economic aid for Ukraine.

Here are four things to note from the report. (Ben Kesling of The Wall Street Journal had what looks like the first write-up of the report’s findings. Some of our take-aways overlap.)

Blaming the Afghan leadership

Former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani comes in for some scathing criticism.

“The seeds of collapse had been planted over a 20-year period. But by almost all accounts, President Ghani’s weak leadership, micromanaging, and lack of political acumen accelerated the collapse,” the report says.

Much of that criticism stems from Ghani’s apparent belief, according to SIGAR, that Biden would not withdraw — an incredible misreading of the new president, who had been pushing for an end to America’s role in Afghanistan for years.

“As a result, President Ghani did not accurately assess the Taliban threat, choosing instead to focus on his political rivals and their threats to his presidency … this likely contributed to President Ghani’s delay in planning for a post-withdrawal reality.”

And his “last-minute wholesale restructuring of Afghanistan’s security institutions between March and June 2021, in particular, undermined ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] cohesion, morale, and ultimately, its ability to counter the Taliban offensive.”

The contractors leave, Afghan forces suffer

Much of the news media focus on the American withdrawal has been on uniformed military personnel, but the report highlights the dependence of the ANDSF on American contractors for key jobs like maintaining vehicles, notably aircraft, and keeping track of military equipment.

Retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, who commanded U.S. forces from 2003 to 2005, put it colorfully to SIGAR: “We built that army to run on contractor support. Without it, it can’t function. Game over … When the contractors pulled out, it was like we pulled all the sticks out of the Jenga pile and expected it to stay up.”

A momentous shift in helicopters

What did this contractor business look like on the ground?

The Afghan Air Force (AAF) was “familiar with the Soviet-made Mi-17 helicopter” and was “able to do most of the maintenance on those aircraft.” U.S. officials estimated in 2017 the AAF would be able to maintain them completely without help by 2019.

But the Pentagon shifted the AAF “to the more complex U.S.-made UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.”

“[T]he shift from Mi-17s to UH-60s moved the date for AAF self-sufficiency back to at least 2030, 10 years after the United States committed to removing all U.S. military and contractor support from Afghanistan,” SIGAR concluded.

“Former Afghan generals Sami Sadat and Haibatullah Alizai told SIGAR that the majority of the AAF’s UH-60s were grounded shortly after U.S. contractors withdrew. 163 Sadat added that when the U.S. contractors withdrew, every aircraft that had battle damage or needed maintenance was grounded. ‘In a matter of months, 60 percent of the Black Hawks were grounded, with no Afghan or U.S. government plan to bring them back to life,’ he said.” 

Doha Deal Secrets

SIGAR also blames secrecy surrounding Trump’s Doha deal with the Taliban, highlighting “[m]any of its provisions were contained in secret written and verbal agreements between U.S. and Taliban envoys, which the Trump administration classified.”

(SIGAR sought those secret annexes from the Pentagon and State Department, but never got them.)

“The secrecy around U.S.- Taliban negotiations and the Doha agreement meant there was a lack of official information for the ANDSF. Taliban propaganda weaponized that vacuum against commanders and elders by claiming they had a secret deal with the US for certain districts or provinces to be surrendered to them.”

We may soon see how much Congress wants to know.


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What’s happening now

Supreme Court to hear arguments on student loan forgiveness

“The Supreme Court is hearing on Tuesday will hear oral arguments in a pair of challenges to President Biden’s far-reaching initiative that would forgive nearly half a trillion dollars in student loan debt,” our colleagues report.

“The proposal has exposed yet another fault line in American society, between those who believe the White House has the legal authority to cancel loan debt and faces a moral imperative to do so and those who consider it a grave and unaffordable overextension of executive authority.”

Follow The Post’s live coverage of the case here

Gang of 8 to be briefed on Trump, Biden and Pence documents

“The top eight congressional leaders known as the ‘Gang of 8' will be briefed Tuesday on the documents with classified markings that were found at the residences and offices of former President Donald Trump, President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence, according to multiple sources familiar with the meeting,” CBS News’s Rebecca Kaplan, Kathryn Watson, Olivia Gazis and Robert Legare report.

Britain and E.U. reset relations with new post-Brexit deal for Northern Ireland

Britain and the European Union have reached a new agreement on post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland, raising hopes that more than six years of wrangling over the U.K.’s departure from the bloc may finally come to an end,” the Associated Press’s Danica Kirka reports.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Top Biden officials warn about pending lapse of spy law

“The campaign to obtain renewal of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act began Tuesday with top security officials arguing in a letter to House and Senate leaders and a think tank speech that the intelligence gleaned has saved American soldiers’ lives, nabbed spies, prevented ransomware hacks and thwarted cyberattacks by China, North Korea, Iran and Russia. It also aided the operation that killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri last year,” Ellen Nakashima reports.

Little-known scientific team behind new assessment on covid-19 origins

“The theory that covid-19 started with a lab accident in central China received a modest boost in the latest U.S. intelligence assessment after the work of a little-known scientific team that conducts some of the federal government’s most secretive and technically challenging investigations of emerging security threats, current and former U.S. officials said Monday,” Joby Warrick, Ellen Nakashima and Shane Harris report.

Murdoch admits some Fox hosts ‘were endorsing’ election falsehoods

Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox News’s parent company, acknowledged in a deposition that ‘some of our commentators were endorsing’ the baseless narrative that the 2020 presidential election was stolen — and that he wishes the network did more to challenge those conspiracy theories,” Jeremy Barr, Sarah Ellison and Rachel Weiner report.

… and beyond

In rare victory, immigrants prevail in suit over meat plant raid

Nearly 100 immigrants who were rounded up during a 2018 raid at a meat processing plant in Tennessee have reached a $1.17 million settlement against the U.S. government and federal agents, who they said used racial profiling and excessive force during the operation, stepping on a person’s neck and punching another in the face,” the New York Times’s Miriam Jordan reports.

The agreement, approved late Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, is very likely the first class settlement over an immigration enforcement operation at a work site, according to immigration experts. In the past, only individual immigrants have reached settlements related to immigration raids.”

Quieter Senate gives Fetterman recovery room

“It’s entirely unclear how long John Fetterman will stay out of the Senate. And Democrats are OK with that,Politico’s Burgess Everett, Marianne Levine and Daniella Diaz report.

His absence throws a sizable roadblock in the path of Senate Democrats’ 51-49 majority. But party leaders are intent on giving him as much time as he needs to recover — particularly given the lengthy recuperation periods that former Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) needed after significant injuries in 2012 and 2006, respectively.”

The Biden agenda

Biden plans to defend health-care spending while ridiculing possible GOP cuts

“President Biden is planning to mount a vigorous defense of his health-care policies as he ramps up criticism of Republican proposals that he argues could threaten the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid,” Matt Viser reports.

Biden is traveling to Virginia Beach on Tuesday afternoon as part of a new line of attack that puts the White House and congressional Republicans on a collision course over possible budget cuts. Some top Republicans have threatened to vote against raising the debt ceiling — which would cause the federal government to default on its loans within a few months — unless Biden agrees to significant cuts in federal spending.”

White House sets deadline for purging TikTok from federal devices

“The White House on Monday gave government agencies 30 days to ensure they do not have Chinese-owned app TikTok on federal devices and systems,” Reuters’s David Shepardson reports.

“In a bid to keep U.S. data safe, all federal agencies must eliminate TikTok from phones and systems and prohibit internet traffic from reaching the company, Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young told agencies in a guidance memorandum seen by Reuters.”

Where anti-trans bills have been introduced and passed this year, visualized

Mississippi last week became the fifth state after Alabama, Utah, South Dakota and Arkansas to pass legislation restricting minors seeking gender-affirming care. Governors in Utah and South Dakota have signed the measures into law. In Florida, the state’s board of medicine has imposed similar limits,” Ariana Eunjung Cha reports.

Hot on the left

‘Our state is at war with our family’

Clergy with trans kids fight back

The [onslaught of anti-trans] bills come at a time when gender identity in the United States is at a cultural inflection point. While the percentage of teens and young adults identifying as transgender remains minuscule, it has more than doubled from one generation to the next,” Ariana Eunjung Cha reports.

  • By the numbers: “Whereas 0.5 percent of all adults said in a 2017-2020 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that they were transgender, 1.4 percent of 13-to-17-year-olds and 1.3 percent of those 18-to-24 identified themselves that way in the survey.”

“While the trend has been celebrated by those who see it as a reflection of social acceptance, there are deep divisions over the issue of gender identity, especially along religious and political lines.”

Hot on the right

As CPAC’s head faces sexual assault claim, other leadership concerns emerge

“But as [Matt Schlapp] rebuffs the allegation by a former staffer from Herschel Walker’s Georgia Senate campaign, who says he groped him during an Atlanta trip last fall, dozens of current and former employees and board members interviewed by The Washington Post described a wider range of complaints about the longtime Republican power broker and CPAC’s culture under his leadership. A Post review of the Walker staffer’s claims also corroborated that he shared his story with friends and colleagues in the immediate aftermath,” Beth Reinhard and Isaac Arnsdorf report.

Today in Washington

At 12:40 p.m., Biden will leave for Joint Base Andrews, where he will fly to Virginia Beach. He will arrive at 1:45 p.m. 

Biden will speak about health care in Virginia Beach at 3 p.m.

Biden will leave Virginia Beach for Andrews at 4:25 p.m. He’ll arrive at the White House at 5:35 p.m.

In closing

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Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.