(Headline USA) While many have called the failed withdrawal from Afghanistan a “Saigon on steroids” moment for President Joe Biden, the Democrat administration hoped yet again to change the optics as its final deadline approached.
Instead, through its premature declarations of victory—with America’s further involvement in the region still very much a possibility—the inept administration may have blundered into yet another less-than-flattering historical comparison: George W. Bush’s notorious “Mission Accomplished” speech.
Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Sunday that for those U.S. citizens seeking immediately to leave Afghanistan by the looming deadline, “we have the capacity to have 300 Americans, which is roughly the number we think are remaining, come to the airport and get on planes in the time that is remaining.”
That claim, however, didn’t seem to jibe with the reality on the ground, where the massive, chaotic evacuation effort appeared poised to leave many Americans and US allies stranded in the Taliban-run city of Kabul.
The U.S. military flew more desperate evacuees out of the Afghan capital on Monday in the waning hours of a final American withdrawal as the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate claimed responsibility for targeting the Kabul airport with rockets. The U.S. military reported no American casualties since the suicide bomb last week that killed 13 US service members and dozens more civilians.
Yet, the Biden administration’s apparent self-pat-on-the-back carried echoes of Bush’s widely lambasted speech in May 2003, during which which he donned a pilot’s jumpsuit and strode across the USS Abe Lincoln aircraft carrier and announced that the mission in Iraq was largely completed.
Bush later regretted his own hubris as the Iraq insurgency required additional troops to be deployed.
In Afghanistan, which was the original theater in Bush’s ‘War on Terrorism,’ the focus of the Biden-led evacuation is now getting the last Americans out who want to leave before Tuesday’s self-imposed deadline.
“This is the most dangerous time in an already extraordinarily dangerous mission these last couple of days,” said America’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
But individuals reporting dispatches from Kabul, including both media sources and politicians involved in the rescue effort have regularly maintained that the Democrat White House has downplayed the dire situation from the very start and that others remain who are unable to break through Taliban checkpoints.
The steady stream of U.S. military jets taking off and landing at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan’s capital continued Monday even after rocket fire targeted the airport and rockets hit a nearby neighborhood.
U.S. Central Command spokesman Bill Urban said five rockets targeted the airport and a U.S. defensive system on the airfield known as a Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar System, or C-RAM, was employed against them.
He said there were no U.S. casualties and the airfield continued to operate. Further details were not immediately available. The White House said Biden had been briefed on the rocket attack.
The White House said Monday morning that about 1,200 people were evacuated from Kabul over the prior 24 hours aboard 26 U.S. military flights and two allied flights.
Sullivan said the U.S. does not currently plan to have an ongoing embassy presence after the final U.S. troop withdrawal.
But he pledged the U.S. “will make sure there is safe passage for any American citizen, any legal permanent resident,” after Tuesday, as well as for “those Afghans who helped us.”
Untold numbers of vulnerable Afghans, fearful of a return to the brutality of pre-2001 Taliban rule, are likely to be left behind.
Blinken said the U.S. was working with other countries in the region to either keep the Kabul airport open after Tuesday or to reopen it “in a timely fashion.”
He also said that while the airport is critical, “there are other ways to leave Afghanistan, including by road, and many countries border Afghanistan.”
The U.S., he said, is “making sure that we have in place all of the necessary tools and means to facilitate the travel for those who seek to leave Afghanistan” after Tuesday.
There also are roughly 280 others who have said they are Americans but who have told the State Department they plan to remain in the country or are undecided. According to the latest totals, about 114,000 people have been evacuated since Aug. 14, including approximately 2,900 on military and coalition flights during the 24 hours ending at 3 a.m. Sunday.
Members of Congress criticized the chaotic and violent evacuation.
“We didn’t have to be in this rush-rush circumstance with terrorists breathing down our neck,” said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah. “…[T]his crisis … has led to what is without question a humanitarian and foreign policy tragedy.”
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the U.S. policy in Afghanistan, with 2,500 troops on the ground, had been working.
“We were, in effect, keeping the lid on, keeping terrorists from reconstituting, and having a light footprint in the country,” he said.
U.S. officials said Sunday’s American drone strike hit a vehicle carrying multiple Islamic State suicide bombers, causing secondary explosions indicating the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.
A senior U.S. official said the military drone fired a Hellfire missile at a vehicle in a compound between two buildings after people were seen loading explosives into the trunk.
The official said there was an initial explosion caused by the missile, followed by a much larger fireball, believed to be the result of the substantial amount of explosives inside the vehicle. The U.S. believes that two Islamic State group individuals who were targeted were killed.
In a statement, U.S. Central Command said it is looking into the reports of civilian casualties that may have been caused by the secondary explosions. An Afghan official said three children were killed in the strike. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss military operations.
It was the second airstrike in recent days the U.S. has conducted against the militant group, which claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing Thursday at the Kabul airport gate. The Pentagon said a U.S. drone mission in eastern Afghanistan killed two members of the ISIS-K variant early Saturday local time in retaliation for the airport bombing.
The 13 service members were the first U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan since February 2020 and the attack was reported to have been the costliest for US troops in the region since the first term of the Obama administration, in 2011.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press