On August 31, the United States completed its complete withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, which was extremely disgraceful. The Biden administration not only lacked an estimate of the Taliban’s rapid capture of the entire territory of Afghanistan, but also questioned the plan for the final phase of withdrawal. A large number of personnel who had provided services to the U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the regime they established and received all the exit procedures were retained. In Afghanistan.
This extremely embarrassing scene of the United States was ridiculed by many international media as a “great escape.” The United States and its Western allies generally believed that the Biden administration had suffered a “huge intelligence failure” in handling the Afghan issue. So, how to evaluate this “intelligence failure” and its impact? This journal interviewed Zhu Yongbiao, a professor at the Afghanistan Research Center of Lanzhou University, Chen Jiajun, an assistant researcher at the Shanghai Institute of American Studies, and Hu Xin, an associate professor at the Institute of Strategy and Security, School of International Relations, National University of Defense Technology.
U.S. intelligence work in Afghanistan is overwhelming
Zhu Yongbiao: The CIA still predicted on August 11 that “Kabul may fall within a month.” However, the Taliban entered the city in just a few days. As a researcher on the Afghan issue, I think there are three main reasons why the US intelligence agency “failed” this time.
First, the United States has never really established a local intelligence network in Afghanistan. This is mainly because the US intelligence agencies are not familiar with the local culture and cannot communicate deeply with the Afghans, especially the tribal class. Their communication objects are mainly “new Afghans” who speak proficient English. Although the United States has a team of first-class experts and scholars studying Afghanistan, there are very few people familiar with the culture of the special tribe in Afghanistan, and it is difficult to really get a wedge in Afghanistan.
Due to the inability to establish an effective intelligence network, U.S. intelligence acquisition in Afghanistan mainly adopts the strategy of “buying” and continuously throwing money, coupled with its own arrogance and disrespect for the local culture, the effect is not good, and it is even used by the locals. In the past 20 years, there have been many incidents of accidental bombing and injury by the U.S. military because some Afghans provided false information to the U.S., and some people even used the hands of the U.S. military intelligence agency to eradicate dissidents.
Second, since the Trump administration and the Taliban started negotiations, the fragile cooperative relationship between the United States and the Afghan intelligence agencies began to collapse in fact. The Afghan intelligence agencies are firmly opposed to the US-Tajikistan peace talks. Both the President’s security adviser Mohib or the First Vice President and former Director of the National Security Agency Saleh strongly resisted. Mohib was warned by the United States for this and was nearly removed from his post. Because they disliked each other, the United States ignored the opinions of Mohib and Saleh, thinking that they “exaggerated the threat of the Taliban.”
Third, the U.S. State Department’s working mechanism in Afghanistan cannot provide stable support for intelligence agencies. The U.S. State Department stipulates that the staff of embassies in Afghanistan and other countries rotate every year. Under this kind of working system, the information held by the U.S. diplomats in Afghanistan is inconsistent, and some diplomats are seldom interested in deep friendship with the locals.
The relevant policies of the United States during this period also severely weakened the intelligence agencies’ ability to collect intelligence. After the United States and Tajikistan signed the agreement in February 2020, the United States has continuously closed its military bases in Afghanistan. At the same time, the acceleration of the U.S. military’s evacuation has caused the situation to change rapidly, and the intelligence agencies’ collection, research and judgment capabilities have obviously been unable to keep up. It should also be noted that the failure of the US intelligence agency is only a concrete manifestation of the failure of the US policy in Afghanistan. It is particularly noteworthy that at the end of the war in Afghanistan, “political correctness” and “political prejudice” dominated US intelligence work in Afghanistan, which ultimately led to disastrous consequences.
Biden’s administration is partial and partial
Chen Jiajun: The “Great Rout” in Afghanistan has created the biggest foreign policy crisis in Biden’s tenure. Various circles in the United States are discussing whether there is an “intelligence failure”, which can be roughly divided into three factions: the first faction is the Biden administration, which does not admit that there was a mistake, and put the blame on the leaders and security forces of Afghanistan; the second faction is part two. Party members of Congress believe that policy and intelligence have “both failed”, and Biden and his national security team bear the inescapable responsibility; the third faction is the current and former officials of the intelligence community, who have defended the military intelligence community, saying that they did not predict it. The Taliban can win such a quick victory, but they have been warning the Afghan Ghani government that “the crisis is pressing harder” and the responsibility lies with the policy errors of the Biden administration rather than the “intelligence failure.”
There is no definitive public document revealing who is responsible, but the controversy still exposes two major differences. One is the differences within the Democratic Party. Most of the party’s members are cautious, but there are still some people who are “against Biden”. Some high-ranking lawmakers asked for hearings within Congress, and some lawmakers with veteran background threatened “accountability.” The reason why these congressmen stand on the opposite side of the party’s government may be to hedge against the pressure from the Republican Party to hold them accountable, and the other may be to prepare for next year’s midterm elections.
The second is the disagreement between the CIA and the military intelligence services. The media reported that the CIA has been pessimistic about the capabilities of the Afghan security forces for many years, but the National Defense Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies within the Ministry of Defense have made more optimistic assessments. The US intelligence community is made up of 18 major agencies, and the assessment results of different agencies will inevitably differ. The problem is which agencies Biden and his staff choose to trust in the assessments. Biden said in July this year that the probability of the Taliban taking over the Afghan regime is “extremely low.” According to reports, a report from the CIA during the same period pointed out that the Afghan security forces and the government have lost control of the road to Kabul. His survival is in a state of “serious danger”.
Why did Biden’s national security staff not adopt the CIA’s judgment? Does it mean distrust of the CIA, or Biden’s arrogance to complete his “administrative achievements” before the official withdrawal deadline, or is it due to “bureaucratic internal fighting”, the mystery remains To be uncovered. Some aesthetics revealed that Biden did not listen to the advice of the professionals around him, and valued the information provided by the Ghani government, “only believe what he is willing to believe.”
“Intelligence failure” is also “systematic failure”
Hu Xin: One of the major characteristics of intelligence work is the continuous game and competition with the uncertain enemy situation and the complicated and subtle bureaucracy. The former creates a fog of “security threats”, putting intelligence work at risk. There are only two options, “right” and “wrong” on life-and-death issues, and there is very little room for fault tolerance. The latter means that intelligence not only serves the government’s strategic policies, but also cares about the interests of other administrative departments, which can easily become the focus of internal and external struggles.
The US intelligence system is also called the “intelligence community” or “intelligence community.” The 18 departments that make up this system include the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and the National Defense Intelligence Agency. From the perspective of human intelligence or technical intelligence, the United States is an internationally recognized “intelligence power” and even “intelligence hegemony.” The embarrassing retreat of the United States from Afghanistan is regarded as a “famous scene” of the decline of its hegemony, and the intelligence system has therefore fallen into another “darkest moment” after the 9.11 incident.
The reason why it is called “intelligence failure” is mainly due to three issues. First, it failed to accurately predict the speed of the Taliban’s attack on Kabul and the downfall of the Ghani government. Second, it overestimated the fighting spirit of the Afghan government. At the beginning of the year, intelligence assessments believed that the Afghan government could still support 6 to 18 months after the withdrawal of the U.S. military. Third, it failed to make enough early warning of the terrorist attack on Kabul Airport.
But the U.S. intelligence system refused to accept such accusations, and especially resisted “endorsing” the failed Afghanistan strategy. In the “fighting war”, the US intelligence services and some military and political officials launched a “return attack”, mainly aimed at the decision-making level of the Biden administration and the handling capabilities of the national security diplomatic team. After meeting with Taliban representatives in Doha in May, the U.S. diplomatic mission reported to the relevant committee of the House of Representatives that the fear of the complete downfall of the Ghani government was “excessive.” Secretary of State Blincoln also stated that although the Ghani government has the possibility of “collapse”, it is highly likely that it will not happen. “The situation will not change drastically from this Friday to next Monday.” The intelligence agency claimed to have issued an early warning to the two administrations of Trump and Biden, reminding the government to sign a peace agreement with the Taliban and announcing a timetable for withdrawal will greatly boost the morale of the Taliban and cause the situation to “take a turn for the worse.”
In the past year, U.S. intelligence agencies have continuously revised their judgments on the timing of the downfall of the Afghan government, from the initial “two years” to “18 months”, “six months” and “one month.” Some officials revealed that the CIA and other agencies actually provided key assessments to the government, especially in July, constantly reminding the military that “there is insufficient preparation for the Taliban’s march to Kabul” and even “predicted that Kabul will fall soon”, but “ No one can listen.”
In addition, the US intelligence agencies have suggested that the total number of permanent personnel in military and intelligence bases in Greater Kabul and other areas should be maintained at around 2,500 to maintain anti-terrorist pressure, prevent the collapse of the Afghan government, and facilitate political negotiations. This proposal was also endorsed by top military officials such as Secretary of Defense Austin. Therefore, the intelligence department believes that it has fulfilled its duties, and the “departure” is more due to political and ideological reasons than “intelligence failure.” Michael Morrel, the former acting director of the CIA, tweeted, “This is the result of a series of policy failures in multiple administrations. In the past few years, among all the participants in Afghan affairs, the intelligence community is aware of the situation. the most accurate”.
No matter how the quarrel, the US government and the military intelligence department did lose face this time. People not only saw the decline of their professional capabilities, but also saw the “systemic failure” of the US Afghanistan policy and even the global strategy. That is, the long-term hegemony and imperial mentality, the wishful thinking of pursuing post-war “national building”, the condescending handling of contradictions with Islamic ideology, the careful calculation of the interests of American contractors and arms dealers, all these complexities in Afghanistan , The peculiarities are shattered. The United States and the forces it supports cannot understand the crux of the Afghan issue from the bottom of the population and from the depths of history. They have long used intelligence for intelligence, knowing it, but not knowing why. Even if it can predict the situation, it cannot change it.
U.S. interests in the U.S. in the era of “retreat”
Zhu Yongbiao: The United States obviously wants to maintain its influence on the Afghan issue while reducing costs. As the Taliban return to the center of the political arena in Afghanistan, the United States has lost a certain foundation. However, from the perspective of external resource supply, long-arm sanctions capabilities, cross-border military strike capabilities, issues and agenda setting capabilities, it will still have important influence in the future. It will still be the side that affects the direction of the situation in Afghanistan. It can be said that Mei has not and will not completely leave Ah.
For some time to come, the United States may adopt a policy of “limited contact” and “combination of talks and talks” with the Taliban. Before the remaining 200 American citizens safely evacuate, the United States will focus on “limited contact” and continue to carry out a certain degree of intelligence cooperation with the Taliban. But after all its citizens have evacuated, the United States will “combine talks” and increase sanctions against the Taliban.
Chen Jiajun: In the era of “retreat”, the United States still has at least three major interests in Afghanistan: First, national security interests, that is, preventing Afghanistan from being used by terrorists as a base to attack Americans again. On August 28, the U.S. military used the “out-of-the-horizon anti-terrorism operation” to kill two leaders of the “Islamic State” branch “Khorasan Province” (ISIS-K) that planned a terrorist attack. Such operations may become the norm in the future. The second is “human rights” and “democracy” interests. The Biden administration is bound to project its value diplomacy to Afghanistan in the Taliban era, and support the opposition in Afghanistan on the grounds of “humanitarian security.” The third is geopolitical interests. The US will closely follow the relationship between China, Russia, Iran and other countries and the Taliban regime, and strategically exert pressure on the Taliban, including international status recognition, economic and financial sanctions, and so on.
Accountability to the Biden administration has begun
Chen Jiajun: At present, the United States has formed accountability pressure on the Biden administration due to the “flight” in Afghanistan. According to attitudes, it can be roughly divided into four factions.
The “restraint faction” is represented by the leadership of the Democratic Party in both houses of Congress. They do not want to let the crisis continue to spread and affect the election next year, but they also believe that they must counter the criticism of the Republican Party. Speaker of the House of Representatives Pelosi proposed to promote the confidential and non-confidential briefings of the House of Representatives with the participation of high-ranking officials, and also called for the holding of the so-called “Gang of Eight” briefings (four party leaders elected by the two houses and the chairman of the intelligence committee of the two houses and Briefing by senior members).
The “moderates” are represented by the “hawks” members of the Democratic Party. They are the main members of the diplomatic or military committees of the two houses, and they also have veteran backgrounds. They believe that they have a moral obligation to the “disaster” caused by the withdrawal. There are also some congressmen in swing constituencies who publicly criticized Biden for “slow evacuation of overseas Chinese” and “distrust of allies” in order to resist attacks from the Republican Party.
The “radicals” are dominated by mainstream Republican lawmakers. They obviously want to use the “Afghan debacle” as the starting point for regaining the majority of seats in the two houses in the 2022 midterm elections, so they lashed out at the “intelligence and policy failure” of the Biden administration. It is said that the strategy of the Republican leadership is to use the annual “National Defense Authorization Act” to force the Biden administration to submit a “post-event report” and then conduct a substantive investigation.
The “extremists” are dominated by pro-Trump Republican lawmakers. These people asked Biden to resign or impeach him, and even invoked the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to end Biden’s term. After the terrorist attack on Kabul Airport, some “ambitious” Republican lawmakers made such appeals. Considering that the Democratic Party currently controls both houses, it is unlikely that Biden will be exempted from the situation in Afghanistan. But if Republicans control the two houses after the election next year, it is not ruled out that they will really try to do so.
There is also a voice in the field of public opinion asking the Biden Guoan team to “resign and apologize.” Secretary of State Blincol and Sullivan, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs are the main targets. Two Republican lawmakers have issued a statement calling for the removal of Blincol, and some Democrats in the House of Representatives are also discussing the removal of the two in private. The Pentagon leadership is also under pressure to resign. Nearly 90 members of the “Flag Officers 4 America,” a conservative organization composed of retired U.S. military generals, signed an open letter requesting Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and the chairman of the U.S. Army Joint Council. Mark Milly resigned. However, it is revealed that Biden will not fire any high-ranking national security officials, unless the situation further deteriorates and the Americans in Afghanistan suffer heavy loss of life.
Democrats fall into danger
Chen Jiajun: According to the latest polls, Biden’s approval rating is declining rapidly, but it is not clear how many of these factors are caused by the “Afghan Rout”. One view is that the long-term impact of the “Great Escape” is limited, because Americans pay more attention to the economy and the epidemic than to the development of overseas affairs, and the failure of US foreign policy in history has little impact on the presidency. Over time, Biden will gain political favor by ending an “unpopular war.” Regardless of whether this view is correct or not, the decline in Biden’s support rate still makes Democrats worry about winning the election next year, because the election of the United States usually has a “referendum on the president’s performance.” Currently, Democrats only have a small majority in both houses of Congress. Republicans only need five seats to retake the House of Representatives and one seat to win the Senate. Taking into account the laws of history plus the latest delineation of congressional districts will definitely benefit the Republican Party, the Democratic Party seems to be “defeated.