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With Afghan government forces largely laying down their arms and the Taliban sweeping into Kabul on Sunday after 20 years of war, many were left with questions, and some began pointing fingers as frantic evacuations of U.S. officials and citizens, as well as Afghan allies, got underway.
A U.S. intelligence assessment reported in late June said the Afghan government could fall within six months of President Joe Biden proceeding with a U.S. military withdrawal that was set in motion by the Trump administration, and last week, news outlets reported a U.S. intelligence assessment that said the Taliban could isolate Kabul in 30 days and potentially take it over in 90 days.
NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, reporting from the capital on Sunday as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, insisted that despite what the intelligence said, it had been obvious to some that the timetable for a takeover was a matter of days, not weeks or months.
"The failure to anticipate the rapid fall of afghan cities, including kabul, is a huge US intelligence failure. I know some US mil commanders anticipated it. They told me. Yet somehow their voices were not heard," he said in a tweet.
"More on intel failure. How did the US get duped into thinking there was ever a peace process with the Taliban? Outfoxed by the Taliban? I’d say that’s embarrassing but shameful is closer," Engel said in another missive.
Michael Morell, the former acting and deputy director of the CIA, dismissed Engel's point of view, arguing that policy is to blame.
"What is happening in Afghanistan is not the result of an intelligence failure. It is the result of numerous policy failures by multiple administrations. Of all the players over the years, the Intelligence Community by far has seen the situation in Afghanistan most accurately," he tweeted in response to Engel's first tweet on intelligence.
"US officials argue there was no intelligence failure," tweeted Ken Dilanian, an NBC News correspondent covering national security. "But they also acknowledge that nobody predicted Kabul would fall within days. A Taliban victory by Sept. 11th was the worst case scenario," he continued about what his team had heard.
ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz, who was in Afghanistan within the last two months, took the stance that there was an intelligence failure.
"They did not want all U.S. forces out of there. They wanted to keep a force of about 3,500 to 4,000 U.S. personnel in Afghanistan just to provide intelligence, to provide some security and to keep the Afghan forces on track," she said on ABC's This Week after her colleague, Jonathan Karl, noted that Biden's top military advisers advised against a total withdrawal in the country.
"We don't know whether that would have made a difference, but I can tell you of the failures, Jon, that are so obvious at this point," Raddatz added. "The training mission of those Afghan forces, $83 billion worth, clearly failed. The negotiations with the Taliban clearly failed. And you also had a really massive intelligence failure here that the U.S. did not realize how quickly the Taliban could take over. And we have been there for 20 years. We know the Taliban. We have people on the ground, and yet the U.S. was caught unaware and completely off guard."
A long quote from a "senior intelligence official" made the rounds across the media landscape defending the spycraft.
“We have noted the troubling trend lines in Afghanistan for some time, with the Taliban at its strongest, militarily, since 2001. Strategically, a rapid Taliban takeover was always a possibility,” the official said. “The question all along was whether the Afghan government and military would be cohesive enough and have the willpower needed to exercise its military capabilities to resist the Taliban. As the Taliban advanced, they ultimately met with little resistance. We have always been clear-eyed that this was possible, and tactical conditions on the ground can often evolve quickly.”
Just last month, Biden himself said a Taliban takeover was not inevitable, noting how well-equipped and sizable the Afghan military was at the time.
"The Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped — as well-equipped as any army in the world — and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable," he said.
But by Sunday, with the U.S. Embassy being emptied out and frantic evacuations underway, reports said Biden and his top brass were "stunned" by the pace of the Taliban's nearly complete takeover of the country. So far, most of the blame from the Biden team has been placed on the Afghan military.
“We’ve seen that that force has been unable to defend the country, and that has happened more quickly than we anticipated,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN on State of the Union.
On the same program, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, accused the Biden administration of ignoring intelligence. He said the assessments he was getting were "probably the grimmest assessment I’ve ever heard on Afghanistan."
Officials told lawmakers in a briefing on Sunday that the U.S. intelligence community was formulating a new assessment of the fluid situation in Afghanistan based on ever-changing factors, according to the Associated Press.
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Original Author: Daniel Chaitin
Original Location: Afghanistan 'intelligence failure' debate begins as Taliban take Kabul