White House Was Brainstorming Afghan Evacuation as Kabul Fell

Leaked documents show Biden admin officials discussing early-stage plans as country collapsed

(Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images)
February 2, 2022

The White House strategized the basics of the evacuation from Afghanistan just one day before the Taliban seized Kabul, according to documents obtained by Axios that illustrate how unprepared the Biden administration was for its withdrawal from the country.

Axios on Tuesday published leaked notes from a White House Situation Room meeting on Aug. 14, 2021, that show senior administration officials deciding on basic points of the withdrawal plan, such as notifying local Afghan staff "to begin to register their interest in relocation to the United States." The next day, Aug. 15, Taliban fighters entered the capital city and overthrew the Afghan government.

Biden administration officials discussed early-stage plans for the evacuation during the meeting, such as directing the State Department to "work to identify as many countries as possible to serve as transit points ... to accommodate U.S. citizens, Afghan nationals, third country nationals, and other evacuees."

The disastrous U.S. withdrawal saw Afghanistan's military fold in the face of Taliban offensives as American troops pulled out. In the chaotic days after the Taliban captured Kabul, Afghan civilians died falling from military planes evacuating from the city's airport, 13 U.S. service members were killed in an ISIS suicide bombing, and the United States mistakenly killed 10 civilians in a drone strike.

Mark Jacobson, a former NATO adviser in Afghanistan, told Axios, "That so much planning, prioritizing and addressing of key questions had not been completed, even as Kabul was about to fall, underscores the absence of adequate interagency planning."

In a response to Axios, a National Security Council spokeswoman dismissed the leaked documents as "cherry-picked notes from one meeting" that "do not reflect the months of work that were already underway."