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Bridges burned in Afghanistan

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WORLD Radio - Bridges burned in Afghanistan

The White House releases a report blaming Trump for a botched withdrawal from Afghanistan while time is running out for Afghans on humanitarian parole


National Security Council spokesman John Kirby listens to a reporter's question during a press briefing at the White House, Thursday, April 6, 2023, in Washington. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, April 11th, 2023.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Up first, the aftermath of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

On Thursday, hours before reporters would break for a long holiday weekend, the Biden administration released long-awaited news: A twelve page report outlining the key decisions on the Afghanistan pullout made during the final days of August 2021.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby explained in a White House briefing that following months of after-action reviews by government departments, the report outlines key lessons learned. First among them:

JOHN KIRBY: Transitions matter.

REICHARD: In other words, Trump’s fault. Kirby claimed the Trump administration did not do enough to prepare Biden’s team to take over the plan to withdraw from Afghanistan.

KIRBY: Thus, President Biden's choice was stark, either withdraw all our forces or resume fighting with the Taliban. He chose the former but even in so doing secured extra time to conduct that withdrawal, stretching it out to August and that's the second point worth making. Despite having his options curtailed, President Biden led a deliberate, rigorous and inclusive decision making process that was responsive to facts on the ground.

Reporters were quick to challenge Kirby’s presentation, starting with the timing. Here’s CBS’s Ed O’Keefe.

ED O’KEEFE: We want the record to reflect this was sent to us about 10 minutes before the briefing began, with little notice. And it's the very definition of a modern major holiday news conference releasing this at the beginning of the high holidays and after months of requests from Republicans and the Republic. So why today? And is this all we get?

EICHER: Kirby responded that the report was coming out only after months of reviews, but the journalists weren’t buying it. They asked about dissent from military leaders that was ignored, why the intelligence community failed to see the Taliban’s quick takeover coming, and, ultimately, who’s responsible for this mess.

PETER DOOCY: Who's gonna get fired over this?

KIRBY: Peter, the purpose of the document that we're putting out today, is to sort of collate the chief reviews and findings of the agencies that did after action reviews. It's not the purpose of it is not accountability. It's the purpose of it is—

DOOCY: —the intel was bad. So how can President Biden ever trust when they come into the Oval Office with the PDB, that anything in there is legit?

KIRBY: What I said was that intelligence is the mosaic

DOOCY: What if the mosaic, all the pieces are incorrect?

KIRBY: What I said was intelligence is hard business.

REICHARD: Throughout the briefing, Kirby claimed the administration took responsible and even laudable action in the withdrawal. But he deflected criticism and refused to assign accountability for any negative outcomes, other than to the previous administration.

Meanwhile, House Republicans continue to probe for evidence of mismanagement. Toward the end of March, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul subpoenaed Secretary of State Tony Blinken. Specifically, he sought a dissent cable, that’s a document outlining concerns about the planned withdrawal. The hope was it may reveal clues about how key decisions were made before Biden decided to pull out.

EICHER: But while politicians obfuscate and investigate, a much more practical problem remains unsolved: the legal status of more than 70 thousand Afghan men, women, and children who were airlifted and granted humanitarian parole in the U- S.

Some Afghans were able to apply for Special Immigrant Visas. But most had no time for that. So they took what was offered. Humanitarian Parole is a two-year protection that allows the refugees to stay in the country, but it doesn’t give them a path to permanent residence. Instead, they must apply to the already overwhelmed asylum system. While some Afghans got their applications processed within a couple months, many others are still waiting, and they’ve only got six months left before their humanitarian parole ends.

REICHARD: WORLD’s Addie Offereins recently spoke with one of these Afghans, a military pilot now living in Arizona. His name is Shahpur Pazhman. He previously visited the United States in 2016 to learn how to fly Black Hawk helicopters for the Afghan Air Force. After the US began its withdrawal, Pazhman was responsible for flying Afghan soldiers into battle hoping to hold back the Taliban. His last flight was August 13th, after the Taliban had taken over most of the rural provinces and was closing in on Kabul.

SHAHPUR PAZHMAN: We took these special forces and commandos and we dropped them to the area in that area we could see was under a very high fight between the government and Taliban. So we thought that this might help the ground forces and keep the Taliban away from coming more near to Kabul. But unfortunately, like around two or three hours later, we find out that they're all surrendered to Taliban. And after that, Taliban start coming from every single corner.

EICHER: After the democratic government of Afghanistan collapsed on August 15, Pazhman’s fellow pilots began taking their aircraft and flying out of the country. But Pazhman was unwilling to leave his family behind, so he stayed in Afghanistan to find a way to get them out.

PAZHMAN: Finally on August 24 2021, we get inside the airport. And then we flew by US Air Force C-17s to Qatar.

EICHER: From there to Germany and then the United States, where Pazhman and his family ended up in Phoenix, where they were surprised by the welcome they received.

PAZHMAN: When we meet people, and we and we told them that we are from Afghanistan. they got very happy. They give us a very good, warm welcomes.

EICHER: Despite promises that their claims would be processed within a couple months, Pazhman and his family have been waiting for more than eight months.

PAZHMAN: If that decision can get approved sooner, we can start our life sooner, because right now, it's kind, it's kind of like everything is on the bridge. If my my asylum decision would not get approved, and my status got expired, so I might not be able to work, and I might not be able to help my family here.

REICHARD: During the White House briefing on Thursday, John Kirby called on Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act. It would expand eligibility for certain refugees to apply for special immigrant visas. That bill has been stuck in committee since last September. In the meantime, thousands of Afghan allies will have to wait and see if the U.S. government will act in time to streamline a path to citizenship now that the bridges to a normal life in Afghanistan have been burned.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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