Aug 18, 2021 - World

CIA director was traveling in Middle East when Kabul fell

Burns departs his confirmation hearing.
Bill Burns departs his confirmation hearing. Photo: Tom Brenner/Pool/Getty

While the drama in Kabul was unfolding over the weekend, CIA director Bill Burns was on a six-day trip to the Middle East.

Why it matters: The CIA and the rest of the U.S. intelligence community have been highly criticized in recent days for an apparent intelligence failure over the swift Taliban takeover. The fact that Burns was on an overseas trip suggests the agency didn’t think a collapse was imminent.

  • The CIA did warn of such a scenario, NBC reports, but officials quoted in the New York Times say agency analysts were reticent to provide any time frame.

Driving the news: Burns visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority from last Tuesday to Thursday and held meetings with senior officials on both sides.

  • He traveled to Lebanon on Saturday for meetings with Lebanese security and intelligence chiefs in Beirut. That visit was intended to convey a message of support to Lebanese military and intelligence chiefs for their role in preserving security during the deep economic crisis, according to Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.
  • On Sunday, Burns traveled to Egypt for a meeting with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. He joined a secure video conference call with Biden on Afghanistan on Sunday from Cairo.
  • Sisi and Burns discussed the situation in Afghanistan as well as regional issues like the situation in Libya, the crisis with Ethiopia over the Grand Renaissance Dam and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, per an Egyptian statement. Burns is the most senior Biden administration official to have met with Sisi thus far.

A CIA spokesperson told Axios: “The CIA Director remains fully engaged on Afghanistan and all critical Agency business no matter his location.”

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