DAILY SIGNAL: ‘Punch in the Gut,’ Afghanistan Veteran Says About Seeing Taliban Takeover

Aug. 15 marked two years since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan after a nearly two-decade war.

For James Hasson, co-author of “Kabul: The Untold Story of Biden’s Fiasco and the American Warriors Who Fought to the End” and an Afghanistan veteran, seeing the Taliban takeover “was a punch in the gut.”

“And I know for at least all the other Afghan veterans that I’ve spoken to, it was a similar punch in the gut for them, as well,” says Hasson, who rose to the rank of Army captain. “And especially then seeing the [Biden] administration repeatedly say that, ‘The Taliban were now our partners,’ that they were being ‘businesslike and professional,’ when of course this is the same Taliban that we just spent 20 years fighting.”

“I lost people I know over there, or people I know passed away over there,” Hasson adds. “And a lot of other people in my circumstances who served there had the same kind of experience, and it’s a very difficult thing to reconcile. And writing this book was an absolute honor, but it was difficult also to do, in part just to see that be absolutely whitewashed.”

Hasson, together with co-author Jerry Dunleavy, an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, joins today’s episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss their book, the No. 1 takeaway they want people to have after reading their book, and the 13 U.S. service members who were killed on Aug. 26, 2021, at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:

Samantha Aschieris: Jerry Dunleavy and James Hasson are joining today’s episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast.” Jerry is an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, specifically investigating the Afghanistan withdrawal. And James is an attorney and Afghanistan veteran who served as an Army captain. Thanks so much for joining us.

James Hasson: It’s great to be here.

Jerry Dunleavy: Thanks for having us.

Aschieris: I wanted to also mention that you are both the authors of the book “Kabul: The Untold Story of Biden’s Fiasco and the American Warriors Who Fought to the End,” which was just released on Aug. 15. Tell us a little bit more about your book and why you wanted to write it.

Dunleavy: Yeah. Our book is, I think, a pretty damning expose on the Biden administration’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.

And the main conclusion from our book, and we conducted hundreds of interviews, reviewed tens of thousands of pages of documents during the course of this, and our conclusion is that questions get raised about President [Joe] Biden’s age, his fitness, whether he is controlling everything that’s going on in the White House.

And often I think some of those questions can be legitimate. But in this instance, this was President Joe Biden’s decision and this decision was a disaster.

It ended with many hundreds, well over a thousand Americans left behind, tens of thousands of Afghan allies left behind, and 13 Americans and 200 Afghans killed, and dozens of Americans injured in a terrorist attack by ISIS-K that our book demonstrates in a variety of ways was ultimately preventable.

And we, James and I, teamed up to write “Kabul” because it was important that this story be told. It’s important that the stories of those 13 service members be told, that the stories of the thousands of service members who are on the ground at Kabul airport in impossible circumstances, having to rely—because of Biden’s terrible decisions—on the Taliban to provide security outside the airport, it’s important to tell those stories and it’s also important that there is some accountability here because there has been none.

No one has been held accountable, no one’s been fired, no one’s been demoted. There’s been no accountability. President Biden doesn’t want there to be any accountability. But we think that our book can provide some accountability for this disaster.

Aschieris: Absolutely. And James, I wanted to ask you, as I mentioned, you served in Afghanistan as an Army captain. First of all, thank you for your service. And second of all, what was it like for you to see the Taliban takeover that we saw two years ago having served there?

Hasson: Yeah, I can say, unequivocally, it was a punch in the gut. And I know for at least all the other Afghan veterans that I’ve spoken to, it was a similar punch in the gut for them as well. And especially then seeing the administration repeatedly say that, “The Taliban were now our partners,” that they were being businesslike and professional, when of course this is the same Taliban that we just spent 20 years fighting.

I lost people I know over there or people I know passed away over there. And a lot of other people in my circumstances who served there had the same kind of experience. And it’s a very difficult thing to reconcile.

And writing this book was an absolute honor, but it was difficult also to do in part just to see that be absolutely whitewashed. And I think the most difficult part about it was that it was all so preventable, as Jerry mentioned, in a variety of ways.

Aschieris: Can you speak more about some of the ways that it could have been prevented, what you’ve discovered throughout your research?

Hasson: Sure. I think the original sin was abandoning Bagram air base, and I think that’s been discussed quite a lot. And there are plenty of reasons for that. No. 1, that it’s highly defensible.

It had all of the abilities to conduct an evacuation, multiple runways, and all the enabling assets that you would need to be able to conduct an evacuation of this magnitude versus a single strip airfield in the middle of a dense urban population center.

And as we lay out in “Kabul,” the decision to abandon Bagram and rely wholly on Hamid Karzai International Airport was a political decision because President Biden wanted under a thousand troops there, basically, almost commensurate with what you would have in any other country where we have an embassy where we have diplomatic security. And you can’t hold Bagram Airfield with 600 troops, which was on the ground at the time.

But there’s one other way, just with Bagram in particular, where this whole thing could have been prevented. And that is that the suicide bomber who eventually made his way to Abbey Gate, a man named Abdul Rahman Al-Logari—his identity has been confirmed by the Intelligence Committee, but the Biden administration has never once said his name. This individual was in custody at a prison called Parwan Prison at Bagram Airfield. If we had not abandoned Bagram, on Aug. 26, he would still be behind bars versus wearing a suicide vest.

Dunleavy: And one thing to add to that is that the very first thing that the Taliban did when they took over Bagram—which we never should have abandoned, for the reasons that James just explained—but the very first thing that the Taliban did when they took over Bagram was to free all of the prisoners at that prison, Parwan prison on Bagram Airfield.

And that prison was filled with not just dozens of al-Qaeda fighters and thousands of Taliban fighters, but filled with something like 2,000 ISIS-K fighters as well.

And it’s interesting because President Joe Biden continued to say, “Look, the Taliban and ISIS-K, they are mortal enemies.” He was saying this throughout August 2021 to kind of reassure the American people that it’s somehow a good idea to try to rely on the Taliban to provide security at Kabul airport because the Taliban have a vested interest in stopping ISIS-K from hitting us because the Taliban and ISIS-K don’t like each other.

That’s true, the Taliban and ISIS-K don’t like each other, they do fight each other, but they hate us more. And there’s a long history in Afghanistan of the Taliban, specifically the Haqqani elements of the Taliban, helping ISIS-K carry out and conduct attacks in Afghanistan targeting the former Afghan government, targeting American troops.

And the place where that sort of coordination or collusion between the Taliban and ISIS-K, the place where that took place most often was in Kabul itself.

So relying on the Taliban was terrible for many reasons, and the Taliban showed us why it was going to be a terrible idea all the way back on Aug. 15 when they freed all those ISIS-K prisoners, replenished ISIS-K as a terrorist organization, and freed the guy who then made his way to Abbey Gate and killed those 13 Americans.

Aschieris: I wanted to also ask you about, throughout your research and the different interviews that you were conducting, the most shocking thing that you learned. I know there was a ton of media coverage as this was all unfolding two years ago, but through your research for the book, what did you find to be the most shocking part about the fall of Afghanistan?

Dunleavy: Well, I’ll take this, and I’m sure that James has something to add as well.

The most shocking thing to me were the stories that we learned from the U.S. service members, the Marines and the other troops who were on the ground at Abbey Gate, about what it was like for them there and what the Taliban was doing.

These stories, these massive crowds of people, desperate crowds, obviously desperate to get out of a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. You had people being trampled to death in the crowds. You had babies being suffocated to death in the crowds.

You had people who were so desperate to get their kids or their babies out that they would just try to hand them over to Marines. Sometimes they would try to toss their kids or toss their babies over the wall and over the razor wire to get them through. And sometimes the kids would land on razor wire and die. You had desperate Afghans who didn’t qualify to get out asking Marines to just kill them. Like, “Please, we can’t go back to the Taliban.”

Hasson: They’d grab the barrels of the Marines’ weapons and try and pull them up their forehead and say, “Just kill me here because it’s going to be better than what the Taliban’s going to do to me.”

Dunleavy: And to give you a sense of what the Taliban was doing—Joe Biden and his administration and other people on the ground and generals were saying that, “The Taliban was businesslike, the Taliban was professional, they were helping us.”

Look, as we detail in “Kabul,” the Taliban was turning Americans away from the gate, was blocking Americans from getting through, was doing everything that it could oftentimes to block our Afghan allies from getting through.

Americans were beaten by the Taliban, Afghan allies and Afghan civilians were beaten by the Taliban, and Afghans were being killed by the Taliban, executed by the Taliban in view of the Marines guarding the gate.

And these Marines, because of the rules of engagement that were imposed in large part because of this terrible situation that Joe Biden had put these troops in, the rules of engagement did not allow them to take action against the Taliban to stop that brutality.

So that just gives you a sense of what these marines were dealing with.

And I’ll just add, though, despite all of this, despite the position that these troops were put in because of President Joe Biden and his bad decision-making, within the incredible, insane strictures that these troops had and these Marines had, they performed admirably. They rescued thousands of Americans, they rescued thousands of our Afghan allies, pulling them out of these desperate crowds, getting them through, and getting them onto planes.

But unfortunately, because of President Joe Biden, tons of Americans and tons of Afghan allies were left behind and tens of thousands of those Afghan allies are still stuck under Taliban rule. And there are also, right now, as we speak, Americans who are being held hostage by the Taliban.

Aschieris: Do you know how many Americans are still in Afghanistan?

Dunleavy: It’s a good question. And the Biden administration has misled and lied about this from the start.

So, when the withdrawal was completed and final troops left at the end of August 2021, the Biden administration was trying to say, “Oh, there’s just a very small number of Americans left behind.”

And by the way, even leaving a small number of Americans left behind is a dereliction of duty and a broken promise. Let’s just make that very clear.

But on top of it, it was not true that it was just a small number of Americans left behind. I mean, we’ve been able to confirm that there were many hundreds, well over a thousand Americans left behind.

Hasson: When the administration was saying at the time, “It’s at most a hundred,” and then they would come back over and say, “Oh, well, we rescued 150 more, so now there’s just around a hundred left.” And they would keep playing that game over and over.

Dunleavy: Right. And [State] Secretary Antony Blinken just this week admitted that since the final U.S. troops left at the end of August 2021, 900 Americans have had to flee the country since then. … So that just shows that the Biden administration was lying to begin with.

I need to point out that a lot of these ongoing efforts to get Americans out and to get our Afghan allies out, these are still being done by some of the very same outside private veteran-led groups who had to step in to get Americans and Afghan allies out during the chaotic evacuation as well because the State Department wasn’t prepared then, and it still isn’t prepared now to do its basic duty of getting Americans out and getting the Afghans that we made promises to out of the country.

Hasson: And just to add to that, we detail in “Kabul” about some of the efforts that were made by these private groups to get people out of the country and how at times they tried to coordinate with the State Department and the State Department was MIA, and so they did it on their own.

And in certain circumstances, including the rescues of Afghan allies as well, the administration would then try and take credit after the fact and pretend that it was through their efforts.

So there’s really this whole other layer of these—they’re heroes, there’s no other way to describe them, who emptied their 401Ks to stand up operations to keep the promises that the administration had broken.

Aschieris: Absolutely. One thing I wanted to ask you guys about, I know you just had a piece out for The Spectator about the role that COVID-19 protocol played in the withdrawal efforts. Tell us a little bit more about this.

Hasson: Sure, I can handle that. It started back in, just throughout the entire process, and it definitely affected the Marines and soldiers who were redeploying into Afghanistan on a day’s notice, but it was present throughout, and I can give you an example of both.

The embassy actually went into lockdown, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul went into lockdown in June, over June 2021, two months before the country fell because of some COVID cases. And they shut down all visa processing. They shut down all, basically, almost all services that an embassy would provide.

And so there are stories of Afghan [Special Immigrant Visa] holders, people who were interpreters who had served alongside of the U.S. for years, even decades, who were there and they scheduled to show up for final approval to leave the country and had their appointments canceled because the embassy locked down.

And then once the embassy reopened, it was rescheduled for dates like Sept. 18, which, by Sept. 18 there was no longer an embassy. And some of those individuals are still stuck in Afghanistan today.

But on an operational level, the COVID-19 [vaccine] mandate that the Biden administration put in place also deprived some of those reinforcing units of key personnel or even made it very difficult for them to plan for, even conduct basic planning before they went in.

And two examples of that phenomenon would be, we spoke with a lot of members of the 82nd Airborne and across several different platoons, they didn’t even know who they were taking and who they were leaving behind within 24 hours out of leaving. And they had to reshuffle their manpower three to four times within 24 hours to try and place leaders in different positions because they didn’t know who was coming and who was going.

And one of the Marine squads that we spoke to in 2/1, the Marine battalion that suffered all those horrendous casualties at Abbey Gate, this squad in particular was deprived of their squad leader and both of their team leaders—so their three senior leaders who were not allowed to deploy alongside of them because they were not vaccinated.

And it extends across the board to senior intelligence analysts, even a surgeon. It’s really an untalked about aspect of this whole thing. And we detail all that in “Kabul.”

Aschieris: I wanted to shift a little bit and talk a little bit more about the airport bombing that killed 13 U.S. service members, over 150 Afghan civilians. We’re coming up on the two-year anniversary of that tragedy as well, Aug. 26. I know you talked to many of the families for this book, and I wanted to just give you the chance to talk a little bit more about what those conversations were like with the families.

Dunleavy: Yeah. Well, I had privilege and the honor to talk to a number of the families, of the Gold Star Families of these 13 service members while we were writing the book. And I also currently have the privilege to speak with them in my current role, helping investigate all of this for the House Foreign Affairs Committee. And I’ll just add the disclaimer that I did the book in my personal capacity before I joined the committee.

But in these conversations with the families, look, they want answers, they want accountability. I think that they’ve been deprived of a lot of answers and they’ve certainly been deprived of any accountability whatsoever.

In terms of the stories that they tell, I mean, they all have sort of a very similar story related to their interactions with President Joe Biden.

Obviously, we’ve all seen the images of President Biden at the dignified transfer Ceremony at Dover, where the caskets for the service members were being brought in. And President Biden kept checking his watch, kept checking his watch as if he had somewhere better to be—at least that was the impression that it gave on TV, and it’s certainly the impression that it gave to the Gold Star Families as well.

A lot of the families also tell a similar story about their personal interaction with him, that he didn’t seem to know the name or the names of their individual family members who’d lost their lives, and that he immediately would just bring up his own son, Beau Biden.

The families were pretty put off by that because, obviously, President Biden’s son, Beau Biden, his death was obviously tragic. He died of brain cancer in 2015, but he had served in Iraq many, many years before. He didn’t die on the battlefield.

And President Biden trying to compare his situation to the situation of these families hit them hard for many reasons, including the fact that, look, many of them believe that their sons and daughters lost their lives because of the bad decisions and incompetence of President Biden himself.

So the Gold Star Families want answers. They want the truth.

And I encourage everyone to actually keep an eye out for this, a lot of the Gold Star Families are going to be coming to Capitol Hill, to the nation’s capital, to tell their stories at a roundtable on Aug. 29. So just a few days after the anniversary of the bombing. Chairman [Michael] McCaul of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and other members of Congress are going to be there so that the American people can hear the stories of these Gold Star Families.

Hasson: And if I can add one thing to that, is that, as we mentioned in “Kabul,” Joe Biden still has never said the names of the 13 who were killed—not on Memorial Day, not on the anniversary of the bombing, never. And that to them is a particular kind of knife to the heart, I think.

Aschieris: Definitely. When we talk about accountability, you were talking earlier about how no one’s been held accountable, what would accountability look like to you and who specifically would you like to see be held accountable?

Hasson: At a minimum, it would start with Secretary Blinken and [Defense Secretary Lloyd] Austin resigning or being fired. But accountability, of course, to that degree, requires the Biden administration to admit that it made a mistake and it doesn’t want to do that. It still describes, just bafflingly, describes this as a “success.”

Dunleavy: Yeah, I mean, I think that he nailed it.

Look, the State Department especially and Antony Blinken especially, they botched this. They didn’t plan, they didn’t have a plan about how to get Americans out and to get all of our Afghan allies out, and it showed.

But at the end of the day, it’s not just Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin, but it’s President Joe Biden himself. And it was his decision on Aug. 14 in his speech where he decided to do an, essentially, conditionless withdrawal, a conditionless surrender. It turned out to be to the Taliban. It was his decision to set Sept. 11, 2021, bafflingly, as the date for the withdrawal to be completed by the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

Now, this is crazy for many reasons. … It was obviously political. He wanted some sort of political victory out of this. But what he ended up getting was, on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, he ended up getting the Taliban being back in charge of Afghanistan after 20 years.

But picking 9/11 as a withdrawal date was political. And it certainly wasn’t strategic. It was the opposite of strategic because September is the middle of Afghanistan’s fighting season.

So the way that the terrain and the weather is in Afghanistan during the spring and summer, that is when there’s lots of fighting. But the late fall and the winter, so much snow, mountainous terrain, it’s hard for the Taliban fighters to move between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It’s tough just generally to do fighting.

But we know that the Taliban every year is always at its strongest and most capable on the battlefield during the spring and the summer. And that’s the exact moment that President Joe Biden decided to pull U.S. troops, and not just pull U.S. troops, but pull out U.S. troops, contractors, advisers, intelligence, logistics, aid, ISR, everything that the Afghan military had been built around and had been trained to rely upon.

And so, as the U.S. is pulling out, we’re also kind of knocking the legs out from under an already very shaky Afghan military. And the Taliban very predictably, as we pulled out, the Taliban moved in, sort of the red blobs sweeping across the country and taking Kabul in rapid fashion before we’d gotten Americans out, before we’d gotten Afghan allies out. And ultimately, the decision came from the top, it came from President Biden. So that’s who ultimately needs to be held accountable for all of this.

Aschieris: Just one final question for both of you. What’s the No. 1 takeaway you want people to have after reading your book?

Hasson: I’ll start. I think, first and foremost, that people need to understand the full scope of this story, which we lay out in “Kabul” so that it never happens again. And secondly, that the men and women on the ground did some incredible things and endured some excruciating things, and their stories need to be told and in large part, in their own words, which is what we try to do.

Dunleavy: And all that I would add to that is I definitely encourage people to read our book “Kabul” because there’s a lot that we found out, and there are stories of incredible heroism by the Americans on the ground and by private veteran-led groups stepping up where the State Department was falling down. But there are also some heart-wrenching and some terrible stories in there as well.

And our biggest conclusion from writing the whole book is that it didn’t have to go this way. Whatever your thoughts were about the war in Afghanistan generally and withdrawing or not, this withdrawal could not—it’s hard to imagine how this withdrawal could have been done in a worse fashion than the way that President Biden did it. And so that’s the big takeaway here, is that it didn’t have to happen this way.

And on top of that, there have been ripple effects because of this disastrous withdrawal. I mean, we make a very strong case in the book that the way that the U.S. and NATO were reeling, absolutely reeling and in a shambles because of this Afghanistan debacle, was very likely the final push that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin needed to do a full invasion of Ukraine. And obviously, this is still a war that is devastating the country of Ukraine to this very day.

China also sought to exploit this as well, both with propaganda. They like to call it the “Kabul moment,” propaganda directed at the Taiwanese to tell them, “Look, you can’t count on the Americans. Don’t bother fighting because America won’t be there with you.” This is the propaganda that they’re pushing to Taiwan as they look to invade Taiwan to try and take it. And it’s a more dangerous world now than it was, and the debacle in Afghanistan played a part in that.

Aschieris: Well, Jerry and James, thank you both so much for joining us. I’ll definitely include a link to your book in the show notes so people can check it out, buy it, learn more about what happened two years ago in Afghanistan. Thank you both so much for joining us.

Dunleavy: Thank you very much.

Hasson: Thank you for having us, really appreciate it.

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The post ‘Punch in the Gut,’ Afghanistan Veteran Says About Seeing Taliban Takeover appeared first on The Daily Signal.

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