Aug 17, 2021 - World

Pentagon defends Kabul evacuation chaos: "No plan is perfect"

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Tuesday that officials had been planning for non-combatant evacuation operations in Afghanistan "as far back as May," but — acknowledging the "graphic nature" of the mayhem in Kabul — suggested that "no plan survives first contact."

Why it matters: The Biden administration is facing intense criticism for the scenes of chaos at the international airport in Kabul, where at least seven people were killed after thousands of Afghans stormed the runway in a desperate effort to flee the Taliban.

Driving the news: "Just as recently as two weeks ago, we held a tabletop exercise here at the Pentagon to walk through what it would look like to do exactly what we're doing now, which is a noncombatant evacuation operation from Hamid Karzai International Airport," Kirby told MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

  • "We planned for almost every contingency here at the Pentagon, but as an old military maxim says, no plan survives first contact. So obviously we had to adjust in the moment," he added.
  • "Certainly nobody wanted to see it result like it did over the last 24 hours, but now we have more forces on the ground and we have begun to secure the field, the tarmac. ... No plan is ever perfect and no plan can be perfectly predictive in terms of what friction, what unknown aspects and factors you're going to deal with on the back side."

The big picture: The Pentagon expects the total number of U.S. troops deployed to Kabul to soon reach 6,000, which should allow 5,000 to 9,000 people to be evacuated per day once operations are fully up and running.

  • Biden acknowledged criticism of the slow pace of the evacuation of eligible Afghan civilians in a speech on Monday, but claimed leaders in Kabul had warned that a "mass exodus" would send the wrong signal and that many Afghans declined to leave earlier because they were "still hopeful for their country."
  • The latter claim is "patently false," says Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which has been working with the administration to help resettle Afghans.
  • "We have been in touch with countless SIV [Special Immigrant Visa] recipients who have been desperate to leave Afghanistan for months and have not been able to due to insufficient financial resources and inadequate flight accessibility through international organizations," Vignarajah told Axios' Stef Kight.

What they're saying: "We should have started this evacuation months ago," Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), a combat veteran and Biden ally, said Monday. "It could have been done deliberately and methodically."

  • Former Obama Defense Secretary Leon Panetta compared the scenes to the botched Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961, and called on Biden to "take responsibility and admit the mistakes that were made."
  • A pair of senior national security officials expressed deep frustrations about the thin Afghanistan withdrawal plans left behind by Donald Trump, with one telling Axios' Hans Nichols: “There was no plan to evacuate our diplomats to the airport. ... When we got in, on Jan. 20, we saw that the cupboard was bare."
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