Washington: A classified assessment by American spy agencies had predicted the collapse of the Afghan military and Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, despite US President Joe Biden’s assurances that Kabul was unlikely to fall according to the New York Times.
Mark Mazzetti, Julian E. Barnes and Adam Goldman, writing in the NYT said that even as US President Joe Biden was telling the public that Kabul was unlikely to fall, intelligence assessments painted a grimmer picture.
By July, many intelligence reports grew more pessimistic, questioning whether any Afghan security forces would muster serious resistance and whether the government could hold on in Kabul, the capital.
President Biden said on July 8 that the Afghan government was unlikely to fall and that there would be no chaotic evacuations of Americans similar to the end of the Vietnam War, reported NYT.
One report in July — as dozens of Afghan districts were falling and Taliban fighters were laying siege to several major cities — laid out the growing risks to Kabul, noting that the Afghan government was unprepared for a Taliban assault, according to a person familiar with the intelligence, said Mazzetti, Barnes and Goldman.
Intelligence agencies predicted that should the Taliban seize cities, a cascading collapse could happen rapidly and the Afghan security forces were at high risk of falling apart.
A historical analysis provided to Congress concluded that the Taliban had learned lessons from their takeover of the country in the 1990s, reported NYT.
This time, the report said, the militant group would first secure border crossings, commandeer provincial capitals and seize swaths of the country’s north before moving in on Kabul, a prediction that proved accurate.
But key American decisions were made long before July, when the consensus among intelligence agencies was that the Afghan government could hang on for as long as two years, which would have left ample time for an orderly exit, says Mazzetti, Barnes and Goldman.
On April 27, when the State Department ordered the departure of nonessential personnel from the embassy in Kabul, the overall intelligence assessment was still that a Taliban takeover was at least 18 months away, according to administration officials.
One senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the classified intelligence reports, said that even by July, as the situation grew more volatile, intelligence agencies never offered a clear prediction of an imminent Taliban takeover.
The official said their assessments were also not given a “high confidence” judgment, the agencies’ highest level of certainty, reported NYT.
As late as a week before Kabul’s fall, the overall intelligence analysis was that a Taliban takeover was not yet inevitable, the official said.
Officials also said that around the time of Biden’s July remarks, where he called on Afghan leaders “to come together,” he and aides were privately pressing them to make concessions that the intelligence reports had indicated were necessary to stave off a government collapse.
Spokeswomen for the CIA and the Director of National Intelligence declined to discuss the assessments given to the White House. But intelligence officials acknowledged that their agencies’ analysis had been sober and that the assessments had changed in recent weeks and months, reported NYT.
Facing clear evidence of the collapse of Afghan forces, American officials have begun to cast blame internally, including statements from the White House that have suggested an intelligence failure.