Lawrence O’Donnell Puts the Afghanistan Evacuation in Perspective
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The common narrative being pushed by several main stream media outlets is that President Biden’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan has been chaotic and largely unsuccessful. It’s become the common motive in reporting the daily news of the Afghan withdrawal but it seems the pundits have forgotten that the end of a losing war is never pretty.
At least one senior journalist, Lawrence O’Donnell, of MSNBC has put some perspective on the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and how it compares to other similar withdrawals in the past. Using White House figures he revealed that there has actually been “enormous progress” by the Biden administration and that at least 53, 000 people have been evacuated, with just about 48, 000 of those coming after the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani himself left.
As O’Donnell potently puts it, this might be the best version of withdrawal the world has ever seen even if it appears so chaotic. What was particularly enlightening was his comparison to the withdrawal of forces from Vietnam and how much worse that was.
It’s important here to note that very soon after the withdrawal of American troops on March 29, 1973, the opposing forces had violated a peace treaty and a full-scale war had resumed in Vietnam. While the Vietnamese government crumbled in 1974 and as President Nixon pulled troops out, South Vietnamese authorities reported that 80,000 of their soldiers and civilians had been killed in fighting in just that year.
In 1975, when President Gerald Ford continued the withdrawal and several images filled television screens of the true chaos of withdrawal as Vietnamese forces had taken over the airport and so the US had to use helicopters to get people out.
There was no negotiation at that time with these forces to secure safe passage for US troops. This time the Biden administration, according to the White House has been in constant communication with the Taliban government to ensure that the airport remains safe.
Even though the statistics are hard to come by it seems according to reports so far that since the withdrawal effort began earlier this month, five people have been confirmed dead. Flights are in operation every day to try and get as many people out as possible.
This has been confirmed by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, in his speech yesterday, August 23.
“I want to start, once again, by saluting our troops and civilians at the Kabul Airport. Kabul fell just over a week ago. Within 48 hours, they had secured the airfield. They had safely and effectively drawn down our embassy compound and retrograded our embassy personnel.
They have now facilitated the evacuation of more than 37,000 people out of the country since August 14th: American citizens, third-country nationals, our Afghan allies, and Afghans at risk of persecution or worse.
In the last 24 hours alone, 28 U.S. military flights have evacuated approximately 10,400 people from Kabul. In addition, 61 coalition aircraft have evacuated approximately 5,900 additional people. That is more than 16,000 people in 24 hours. And the flights are continuing hour by hour as we speak.
We have established a network of transit centers in multiple countries in the Gulf and Europe, where we are getting U.S. citizens on flights home and we are running biometric and biographic background checks on Afghan evacuees before bringing them to the United States or having them relocated to a third country. All told, 26 countries on four continents are contributing to this effort — one of the largest airlifts in history; a massive military, diplomatic, security, humanitarian undertaking; a testament to the power and purpose of the United States and our allies.
I want to provide an update on American citizens. We’ve helped thousands of Americans leave Kabul already. We’ve contacted Americans still in Afghanistan by e-mail, by phone, by text to give them specific instructions. We have developed a method to safely and efficiently transfer groups of American citizens onto the airfield. For operational reasons, I’m not going to go into further detail on this.”
This is just a little bit of the progress that he stated has happened so far.
The President has also said that he is in discussions about whether there is a need to stay longer than the August 31 deadline first proposed. A sign that he intends to see the withdrawal through even though the Taliban has already threatened that there would be retaliation for this. He’s even said that he would welcome Afghans to the US who have been vetted, another sign of commitment to the cause and not abandoning a plan that he inherited.
“Planes taking off from Kabul are not flying directly to the United States. They’re landing at U.S. military bases and transit centers around the world,” Biden said. “At these sites where they are landing, we are conducting thorough … security screening for everyone who is not a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident. Anyone arriving in the United States will have undergone a background check.”
“Once screened and cleared, we will welcome these Afghans who helped us in the war effort over the last 20 years to their new home in the United States of America. Because that is who we are, that is what America is,” he added. All of these facts have been downplayed by most media sites that are content to bring the images of chaos around Kabul.
Take a look at what two of many popular media agencies have had to say and then take a look at O’ Donnell’s explanation of events.
Opinion by Max Boot
Columnist covering national security
“Biden’s attempt to dodge responsibility for this fiasco in his statement on Saturday was utterly unconvincing. He attempted to dump the blame on Trump, noting that he had inherited an agreement that called for a U.S. withdrawal by May 1. This was, indeed, a terrible deal — but the Taliban were not abiding by it, so Biden was not obligated to do so either.
Biden’s statement suggested a false choice, to either “follow through on the deal” or send “more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict.”
Analysis by Stephen Collinson
“And while Biden’s political and geopolitical rivals rush to exploit his mistakes, the true magnitude of the crisis can only be judged in the human tragedy of a people again subject to Taliban persecution. And a failure to fulfill the now apparently near-impossible tasks of evacuating all the Afghan translators, workers, and fixers on whom the US relied and who now face Taliban retribution would besmirch America’s conscience and global reputation.
“It is a stain on our nation’s integrity and honor that even just a few months ago, we were not meeting our obligation to the men and women, our Afghan allies who served alongside us,” Jake Wood, a former US Marine, and Afghan war veteran, told CNN’s Pamela Brown on Sunday.
“We owe them the special immigrant visas. We owe them safety, every bit as much as we owe safety to our embassy workers in Kabul.”
President Biden himself put it best when he said:
“Let me be clear: The evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul is going to be hard and painful no matter when it started and when we began. It would have been true if we had started a month ago or a month from now.
There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss, of heartbreaking images you see on television. It’s just a fact. My heart aches for those people you see.”