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EDITORIAL: ‘Virtually no time to prepare’

Joe Biden’s deadly bungling of the Afghanistan withdrawal precipitated a drop in the president’s approval rating from which he has yet to recover. New reports indicate the missteps were worse than previously known.

Recall that Mr. Biden in July 2021 announced, “Our military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on Aug. 31. The drawdown is proceeding in a secure and orderly way, prioritizing the safety of our troops as they depart.” He insisted that the Afghan military was “well-equipped” to ensure the Taliban did not seize power again and that the government could maintain itself.

In fact, virtually every assertion the president made that day proved to be disastrously wrong. By the middle of August, the Taliban had advanced quickly. As the situation in Kabul deteriorated, 13 American troops were killed by a terror attack while they helped evacuate people from the country. When the last U.S. military planes left — a scene reminiscent of the fall of Saigon — scores of Americans and thousands of Afghans who had served alongside them were left stranded, and the Taliban had seized control.

On Thursday, CNN released a report on the Afghan withdrawal based on testimony from State Department officials to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Transcripts of their testimony reveal that the foreign affairs officers dispatched to Afghanistan had been on other assignments when they were sent to Kabul and “were rushed to the country with virtually no time to prepare and no established emergency evacuation plan in place when they arrived,” CNN reported.

American embassies are required to have evacuation plans for emergencies, the network reported. But the Kabul Embassy had no such safeguard. “The new details,” CNN noted, “paint a picture of the chaos outside the Kabul airport and the ad-hoc nature of the evacuation, something that top U.S. military generals suggested could have been mitigated if the State Department had called sooner for a ‘noncombatant evacuation operation’ — known as a NEO — for remaining U.S. citizens in Afghanistan.”

Defenders of Mr. Biden argue he was only following the path put in place by his predecessor. As president, Donald Trump cut a deal agreeing to gradually withdraw U.S. forces from the country in return for commitments from the Taliban. But Mr. Biden didn’t seem concerned about the Taliban honoring those promises and moved forward regardless. That decision is on him, not Mr. Trump.

Rep. Michael McCaul, the Texas Republican who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, intends to issue a report on the Kabul debacle this year based on interviews with State Department officials. Democrats accuse him of trying to politicize the issue to hurt Mr. Biden in an election year. But Mr. Biden did the damage to himself. The American people deserve a full accounting of the Afghanistan fiasco — and U.S. voters should act accordingly.

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