U.S. Acknowledges Afghanistan Evacuations Should Have Started Sooner

President Biden’s decision to end a 20-year war in August 2021 led to the swift collapse of the Afghan government and military.

WASHINGTON — The United States on Thursday acknowledged that the government should have started the withdrawal of Americans and Afghans from Kabul earlier at the end of the war in Afghanistan in 2021, and as a result the government has changed policies to carry out evacuations in foreign countries sooner when security conditions worsen.

The acknowledgment was tucked inside a long-awaited summary of the August 2021 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, which led to the swift collapse of the Afghan government and military. And amid rushed attempts by military officials to evacuate people from Kabul’s international airport, an Islamic State suicide bomber carried out an attack that killed as many as 170 civilians and 13 U.S. service members.

President Biden initially defended his decision as an “extraordinary success” and declared the end of an era in which the American government used military power “to remake other countries. But polling at the time showed that less than 40 percent of Americans supported how he handled the withdrawal, and Mr. Biden eventually demanded a “top to bottom” review of the pullout.

According to a 12-page summary of the review, government officials sought to put much of the blame on Mr. Biden’s predecessor, former President Donald J. Trump, accusing Mr. Trump of hastily striking a deal with the Taliban to withdrawal American troops by the spring of 2021 and failing to outline a plan. But officials also acknowledged the speed with which the Taliban overtook the country and indicated a new stance of erring on the side of “aggressive communication” about risks.

The document says that in the months before the military pulled out, the Biden administration chose “to not broadcast loudly and publicly about a potential worst-case scenario unfolding in order to avoid signaling a lack of confidence” in the Afghan government.

The report does not directly call that a mistake, but at two points the report says that the government has changed its policies and will no longer make that choice.

“We now prioritize earlier evacuations when faced with a degrading security situation,” the administration said in a summary. “We did so in both Ethiopia and Ukraine,” referring to continuing conflicts in the countries.