CIA director was abroad while Kabul fell, report says

News comes as intelligence community faces scrutiny over predictions of Afghan government’s strength

John Bowden
Washington DC
Thursday 19 August 2021 07:21
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US Army General: Intelligence did not suggest Afghanistan collapse within 11 days of withdrawal
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The director of the CIA was not in Washington when Kabul fell and an evacuation that has been widely criticised for its chaotic nature was launched.

Axios reported on Wednesday that Bill Burns was visiting the Middle East and northern Africa as part of a nearly week-long trip to meet with his regional counterparts; on Sunday, when Taliban militants took control of the capital, Mr Burns was in Egypt.

“The fact that Burns was on an overseas trip suggests the agency didn’t think a collapse was imminent,” Axios’s Barak Ravid speculated in the article.

Other US leaders including most recently Gen Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have essentially confirmed that view was held across the Biden administration and US military leadership.

"There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days," said Mr Milley at a news briefing on Wednesday.

Agency officials disputed to The Independent that it would be impossible or even unduly difficult for the CIA director to advise the president on the situation while abroad.

“The CIA Director remains fully engaged on Afghanistan and all critical Agency business no matter his location,” a spokeswoman said.

The Biden administration and US military have come under intense criticism by many in the media over the calamitous end of the nearly 20-year US occupation in Afghanistan, which over the weekend saw the fall of Kabul and horrific scenes unfolding on the tarmac of Hamid Karzai International Airport, where Afghan civilians were seen clinging to departing aircraft and several died in the confusion.

Just a month ago, President Joe Biden stated that such scenes would not transpire, and rejected an assertion made by a reporter who suggested that US intelligence officials thought the government could fall within weeks.

“There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof” of the US embassy, he said at the time, drawing comparisons to the US exit from Saigon.

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