US intelligence missed mark on Taliban taking Kabul, documents say

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US intelligence missed mark on Taliban taking Kabul, documents say

US agencies experienced a widespread intelligence failure regarding the rapid takeover of Afghanistan’s capital by the Taliban, as American troops remained on the ground in mid-August, according to a report Thursday.

Summaries of classified material reviewed by the Wall Street Journal show the agencies tracked Taliban advances from spring 2020 until this July, predicting the militant group would keep gaining ground as the US-backed government was unlikely to survive without support from Washington.

But none of the nearly two dozen intelligence assessments foresaw the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul by Aug. 15 — when US forces were still on the ground, the Journal reported.

The newspaper obtained summaries of reports by four key intelligence agencies: the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the State Department’s intelligence bureau.

Just one month after President Biden announced the drawdown of all remaining 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan, the CIA released a May 17 report estimating the government of Ashraf Ghani would fall by the end of the year.

According to classified documents, US intelligence agencies did not foresee who quickly the Taliban would takeover Afghanistan during the withdrawal.
According to classified documents, US intelligence agencies did not foresee how quickly the Taliban would take over Afghanistan during the withdrawal.
MARCUS YAM / LOS ANGELES TIMES

Ghani ended up fleeing the country as the Taliban took control of the presidential palace in Kabul. The extremist Islamic group later posed for pictures at Ghani’s desk as they announced they would re-establish the Islamic emirate that was disbanded after US forces invaded in 2001.

Less than a month after its May report, the CIA forecast a “complete Taliban takeover” within two years. A DIA report dated June 4 indicated the Taliban would continue its strategy of isolating rural areas from Kabul over the next year before predicting a month later that the Afghan government would hold Kabul, according to a source familiar with the report.

The summaries provide new insight as to what the US intelligence community was telling Biden and his predecessor, President Donald Trump, as they sought to end the country’s 20-year war in Afghanistan. More than 2,400 military personnel were killed and the campaign cost more than $2 trillion, according to some estimates.

A report from the CIA predicted a Taliban takeover two years from the withdrawal of US troops.
A report from the CIA predicted a Taliban takeover within two years of the withdrawal of US troops.
Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Taliban fighters armed with American weapons and equipment patrol and secure the outer perimeter.
Taliban fighters with American weapons and equipment patrol and secure the outer perimeter of Hamid Karzai International Airport.
MARCUS YAM / LOS ANGELES TIMES

The belief that Afghan security forces and the government could withstand Taliban advances was central to Biden’s withdrawal plans, the Journal reported.

But the US military was left scrambling when the Afghan government abruptly fell after the Taliban seized nearly all of the country in the span of a week, toppling forces who received billions of dollars and training from the US military over two decades.

The takeover came so quickly that the US military sent thousands of troops to evacuate the embassy. An ISIS-K suicide bomber also killed 13 US service members outside the Kabul airport on Aug. 26 as they helped to oversee the evacuation of thousands of Americans and Afghan allies.

British and American soldiers overseeing Afghan evacuees at the airport in Kabul on August 25, 2021.
British and American soldiers oversee Afghan evacuees at the airport in Kabul on August 25, 2021.
Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Reps from the four intelligence agencies declined to comment, but a senior administration official acknowledged they provided a “mixed picture,” the Journal reported.

“Directionally, they were all correct that things were going to deteriorate,” the senior administration official told the Wall Street Journal. “They’re not oracles.”

A senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense Democracies, Bill Roggio, told the newspaper the intelligence agencies should be held accountable for being blindsided.

Roggio said analysts at several agencies he spoke with predicted a quick Taliban takeover and “for whatever reason that didn’t make it to the top,” according to the report.

“The intelligence community needs to take a long, hard look at how it provides assessments to senior leadership,” Roggio told the Journal, adding that the White House appeared intent on withdrawing from Afghanistan.

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