The Biden administration was working out crucial details of the civilian evacuation from Kabul even as the Taliban descended on the Afghan city, according to a document obtained by Axios. The National Security Council's summary notes from the Aug. 14 meeting of the Deputies Small Group—chaired by Homeland Security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall and attended by Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—show officials were unprepared to evacuate Afghan allies, and weren't even sure who would want to leave, hours before Kabul fell, Axios reports. The group had just decided the US Embassy should notify locally employed staff "to begin to register their interest in relocation" to the US, according to the notes.
"State will work to identify as many countries as possible to serve as transit points," added the document, noting "transit points need to be able to accommodate US citizens, Afghan nationals, third country nationals, and other evacuees." NSC rep Emily Horne tells Axios that the "cherry-picked notes from one meeting do not reflect the months of work that were already underway." Operation Allies Refuge had begun weeks earlier and "it was because of this type of planning and other efforts that we were able to facilitate the evacuation of more than 120,000 Americans, legal permanent residents, vulnerable Afghans and other partners." Still, critics say the administration was dawdling.
Former CIA officer Matt Zeller says he contacted officials about protecting Afghans allies in February 2021 but "they didn't believe the sky was falling." On July 13, he reached out again but "they didn't get back to us until Aug. 15, the day Kabul fell." While neither Afghans nor Americans knew how quickly Kabul would fall, "the failure to plan for a worst-case scenario while there was time, during the spring and early summer, as Afghanistan began to collapse, led directly to the fatal chaos in August," George Packer writes at the Atlantic, noting hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Afghans remain behind. Qatar has just reached a deal with the Taliban to allow two chartered evacuation flights out of Kabul each week, per Axios. (Read more Afghanistan stories.)