The Taliban Assisted Americans and Afghans to Safely Escape Kabul, Officials Say

According to the Defense Department, the U.S. military collaborated with the Taliban to assist Americans and Afghan nationals in fleeing. However, the level of cooperation and assistance well exceeded what Pentagon commanders have publicly stated, according to three senior U.S. defense officials.

The close coordination occurred because both sides desired the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers and shared an adversary: the Islamic State terrorist group, often known as ISIS. Thursday at the Abbey Gate on the southeast side of the airport, an ISIS-K fighter detonated a suicide vest, killing 13 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghan civilians.

For more than a week, militants who have waged a two-decade war against the U.S. drove Americans through checkpoints, cleared streets to allow Americans to pass safely, and even carried bags to airport gates, officials claimed. They may also have averted some attacks, authorities added.

“The Taliban had been very pragmatic and very businesslike as we approached this withdrawal,” Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, said Monday, hours after the final American forces left Kabul.

“I do know this, just speaking purely practically, as a professional, they helped us secure the airfield. Not perfectly, but they gave it a very good effort, and it was actually significantly helpful to us, particularly here in the end,” McKenzie added.

While numerous Americans went through Taliban checkpoints, there were claims that the Taliban battered and turned away some Americans and Afghans. The Taliban made it known to the U.S. that they did not want ISIS-K fighters to obtain access to the airport, eager to assert their grip over the country.

McKenzie stated at a briefing Thursday following the attack that he felt the Taliban had thwarted certain attacks and that the U.S. had shared information with them. “They don’t get the full range of information we have,” he said. “But we give them enough time and space to try to prevent these attacks.”

McKenzie believes the Taliban will have its hands full with ISIS-K with the U.S. out of the picture. “And they let a lot of those people out of prisons, and now they’re going to be able to reap what they sowed.”

The collaboration began on Aug. 15 in Doha, Qatar, during a meeting with Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. McKenzie stated that he informed Baradar that the U.S. would initiate an evacuation mission and, if necessary, defend evacuees.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., stated that he expects the US would continue to work with the Taliban.

“There’s been coordination and communication with the Taliban for several years,” he explained. Garamendi stated that the U.S. must retain diplomatic and military contacts because terrorist groups such as ISIS-K and Al Qaeda continue to pose a threat.