The Biden administration ignored intelligence community warnings that its plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan would prove deadly, current and former military officials told Congress Thursday.
"There was very little intelligence to suggest the Biden administration’s plan would work and a mountain range of evidence to suggest the plan would fail," retired Col. Seth Krummrich, former chief of staff for special operations at U.S. Central Command, testified on Thursday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "The president’s decision to ignore the best military advice and execute an immediate military withdrawal was a shock and a rude awakening for all the planners."
Testimony from Krummrich and other military brass involved in the rushed evacuation that left 13 Americans dead provides an unprecedented window into the Biden administration’s rush to leave Afghanistan as the American intelligence community warned of catastrophic failure. President Joe Biden’s White House, Krummrich disclosed for the first time publicly, "controls how we withdrew and when we withdrew, making them the majority stakeholder of many guilty parties in the failure and collapse of Afghanistan and current Taliban rule."
Another senior military leader, Command Sergeant Major Jacob Smith, warned State Department officials in the months leading up to September 2021 that Kabul International Airport—the eventual site of a terror bombing that killed 13 service members—was not equipped to handle a mass exodus of Americans. But the administration refused to shift the evacuation to the more secure Bagram Air Base, which had been shut down by the time of the withdrawal.
Under questioning from Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.)—who pointently referred to Afghanistan as a "shithole"—Smith confirmed that Bagram Air Base could have withstood a sustained attack during the evacuation.
Bagram, Smith revealed, "had a completely secured airfield that would require a massive military offensive to overrun or breach." Kabul airport, on the other hand, was surrounded by a city of 4.4 million residents and not even completely controlled by U.S. forces, presenting a host of security challenges.
Bagram also had "the mechanical capability to destroy sensitive equipment on an industrial scale in a short time," while Kabul airport "did not," according to Smith. If the State Department had chosen Bagram as the site of its evacuation, the military likely could have destroyed much of $7.2 billion in sensitive military equipment that was left behind and ultimately seized by the Taliban.
"I advised the embassy team against using" the Kabul airport, Smith said, noting that the State Department initially agreed with his assessment. However, officials back in Washington, D.C., ordered the base be shut down by early July 2021. "It is my understanding that those in [U.S.] embassy did not think that Taliban would advance to take Kabul."
By August, a month before the full-scale evacuation effort, Kabul airport was left mostly undefended.
"An area once protected by hundreds of soldiers and contractors was now protected by 113 American soldiers," Smith said, as the families of several soldiers killed in the September terrorist bombing wept behind him. "This was the only force left in Afghanistan."
Krummrich also revealed in his testimony that the top generals advising the Biden administration, including current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Miley, "all recommended not withdrawing."
"Prudence and patience were replaced with speed of action without the time to study the consequences and mitigate those risks," Krummrich said.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas), the foreign affairs committee’s chairman, said during the hearing that the Biden administration has repeatedly failed to produce an evacuation plan for Afghanistan, indicating that one did not even exist.
Retired Col. Christopher Kolenda, a veteran national security analyst, said the failures in Afghanistan point to a leadership power vacuum.
"There’s nobody in charge," Kolenda said. "There’s nobody functionally in charge of our wars on the ground in theater."