by Austin Bay
September 8, 2021
On Sept. 7, Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a news conference in Qatar declared he was "unaware" of any "hostage-like situation" in aircraft waiting to take off from Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport.
Blinken was responding to Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas. On Sept. 5, McCaul told Fox News Sunday that six planes at Mazar-i-Sharif transporting American citizens and Afghan interpreters had been denied departure. The State Department "has cleared these flights and the Taliban will not let them leave the airport," he said. He added: "We know the reason why (they are held) is because the Taliban want something in exchange." McCaul speculated the Taliban wanted U.S. diplomatic recognition.
McCaul is the House Foreign Affairs Committee's ranking Republican.
Mazar-i-Sharif is 190 miles northwest of Kabul. Several private organizations have tried to arrange chartered flights from Mazar-i-Sharif with the aim of evacuating stranded Americans and Afghan nationals who possess or deserve a U.S. Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV.
McCaul described a hostage situation quid pro quo. In exchange for releasing Americans held against their will, the Taliban want diplomatic recognition, which might give the Taliban access to frozen Afghan financial assets.
Blinken's oily response was a nondenial. Claiming he is personally "unaware" doesn't mean no one in his State Department knows otherwise. Note Blinken adds cheap spin with the weasel term "hostage-like."
Blinken's waffles followed White House press secretary Jen Psaki's Aug. 23 Alice in Wonderland reply to a reporter that "Americans aren't stranded" in Afghanistan. On the fly, Psaki redefined "stranded" to mean something it doesn't. She contended citizens denied entry to Kabul's airport weren't stranded because they had cellphone contact.
They follow their leader. Blinken and Psaki mimic President Joe Biden's repugnant example. On Aug. 31, Reuters published a July 23 telephone exchange between Biden and Afghan then-President Ashraf Ghani. Biden told Ghani that " ... the perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things aren't going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban. And there's a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture. "
The Reuters report has decisive historical importance. Biden knew his clumsy, incompetent and haphazard withdrawal was failing. However, instead of assisting the Afghan government in order to safely and successfully evacuate U.S. citizens, Biden wanted Ghani to use word and image perception gimmickry to conceal Biden's real-world leadership, policy and battlefield failure.
Blinken's Sept. 7 performance included some subtle but ugly admissions. Flights from Afghanistan were denied exit because people with valid travel documents are grouped with people lacking proper State Department paperwork.
Biden announced his withdrawal on April 14. He craved the optics of exiting Afghanistan by 9/11's 20th anniversary. But Biden's presidential order failed to prod the State Department to act to meet his withdrawal deadline.
On Aug. 16, the Washington Examiner reported that the State Department had a SIV "processing backlog" for 18,000 Afghan allies and 53,000 Afghan dependents.
That "backlog" testifies to the life-threatening wages of the State Department's ingrained institutional defects. I'll list a few: paper shuffling, bureaucratic 9-to-5 inertia; lack of accountability; and focus on perception, not policy execution and results.
Noncombatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) is Pentagonese for "the departure of civilian noncombatants and nonessential military personnel from danger in an overseas country to a designated safe haven ... "
By doctrine, in a NEO the State Department is the lead government agency. The State Department identifies who should be evacuated, processes their paperwork and arranges for safe havens. The State Department constantly coordinates with the Pentagon, so the military is prepared to safely conduct the evacuation.
Biden and Blinken at best gave a nod to a haphazard planning process. Then they mismanaged the withdrawal's preparatory action phase and utterly botched its execution phase.
We confront our appalling moment: Biden and Blinken's leadership failures and the State Department's ineptitude have created a prolonged hostage situation. The failures and ineptitude also spurred the chaos that led to the deaths of 13 U.S. military personnel.