In this episode of Kash’s Corner, Kash Patel breaks down what the United States should do now to rescue the Americans left behind in Afghanistan and why the United States must thoroughly vet all the individuals who were airlifted from Kabul.
“Knowing al-Qaeda, how they operate, knowing ISIS and how they operate … I don’t have access to the intelligence anymore, but I’m telling you, those guys are taking advantage of the airlifts out of there to place their operatives on these planes,” Patel says.
Kash Patel: Hey everybody and welcome back to Kash’s Corner.
Jan Jekielek: Predictably, our topic this week continues to be Afghanistan which we started last week. Before we dive in, one of the big topics on everybody’s mind has been the service members that were killed last week.
Mr. Patel: Probably the worst thing about being in the theater of war is the possibility of losing Americans and soldiers, and we lost 13 of them this past week in Kabul due to a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device that was executed by a terrorist group. In my service in DOD and in other departments, the single most hard and difficult thing to endure is when you have to go home and inform their families that their loved ones aren’t coming home. Before the show, I just wanted to acknowledge the families of those that have fallen in the last week.
Their loss is not in vain as far as I’m concerned. They were serving a mission to help others who could not endure that mission themselves. When you’re serving alongside them or in the DOD community, that impacts you in a very real way—it makes the decisions you make real. When I was running the Department of Defense, there’s always a potential for loss of life in any of these conflicts. We just had the biggest fatality, unfortunately, since “Extortion 17” in 2011. So it’s quite a significant date and we acknowledge it and are letting the families know that we’re with them.
Mr. Jekielek: I understand that they’ve now been airlifted to the U.S.
Mr. Patel: Yes. So what happens when service members are killed in combat or in a theater of war, there’s a process called a dignified transfer and they are airlifted on military transport planes with their coffins and the flags draped over them. There’s a formal transfer of their remains to the family members who are also at Dover, usually with high-level government officials. I had to do one when I was chief of staff at Dover just last year. We lost five soldiers in a helicopter crash in Egypt. You go there and the most important thing is to meet with the families.
It’s also the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my entire career. You can’t help but weep with them. You can’t help but realize the magnitude of their loss and that your decisions could cause you to return to Dover for another dignified transfer. Of course, we do everything we can to avoid that. That makes your calculations, especially in a theater of war, so much more precise and based on intelligence and sound advice. So we try to learn from them, but those were some really hard times, the hardest.
Mr. Jekielek: As we’re filming, the August 31st deadline is looming. So it’s going be past the 31st when this episode airs. There’s a lot of eyes on America, what America is doing, eyes on Afghanistan and there’s a lot of questions about what really should happen next—even like what is the mission at this point?
Mr. Patel: Yes, it’s a great question that you should ask of any administration that’s leading the effort. Right now it’s President Biden’s administration and unfortunately, I don’t know that there is a plan, except this so-called withdrawal date of August 31st. What I’ve been telling people lately is that this is not a withdrawal, this is an evacuation. This is an unconditional surrender of a position in a theater of war we’ve been in for 20 years.
We are reacting to situations as they occur, and we are reacting to try and airlift American citizens out of the country. We’re trying to get Afghan allies that worked with us for decades out of the country, who are being targeted by terrorists. The suicide bombs or the vehicle-borne improvised explosive device from last week make that threat real. What I would like to have seen or to see now, is an actual plan.
My biggest fear is that come August 31st, we are going to leave thousands of Americans stranded in Afghanistan and without a plan to get them home. That’s going to subject them to becoming hostages of terrorist organizations that are in the country. That makes the plan or lack thereof in Afghanistan all the more complicated and all the more deadly.
Mr Jekielek: From what I understand the Taliban is basically asking for the money that was being transferred to the Afghan government, now that the Taliban is saying that they’re forming the official government.
Mr. Patel: So they just rewinded a little bit. The Afghan government was always funded, in part by America, because the Afghan government didn’t have a revenue stream that they could secure to run their entire center of operations. Now the Taliban is saying, “We, the Taliban are the government, we are the Afghan government, we are President Ghani’s government, so please give us the money to run Afghanistan.
I don’t know what the decision point is going to be for this administration, but it’s a critical one. Are we going to give the Taliban money when we know—and we can get into this in more detail—that some of their actions have recently led to the 13 soldiers being killed? There’s also the failure of the Taliban to permit American citizens to leave Afghanistan.
And it’s not just their failure, it’s also a failure of this government right now, in terms of not going out into the country and retrieving Americans like we should have planned to do ahead of time. That’s why it’s not a withdrawal plan, it’s an evacuation, which was highlighted most significantly by our Chinook helicopters, literally airlifting Americans off the rooftops of our embassy in Kabul, something we haven’t seen since 1975 in Saigon.
Mr. Jekielek: At this exact point of time, what could be the next steps?
Mr. Patel: I’m out of government so I don’t know if they’ll listen to me, but here’s what my team and I would have done. I’ve previously outlined the conditions-based withdrawal that President Trump was going to, or did implement and did execute when I was running the Department of Defense. But basically, we were never going leave Bagram first and foremost.
It’s our center of operations—you cannot operate in Afghanistan without Bagram. And what I’ve been hearing and reading about lately is that the military leaders under this administration, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and others gave advice to this President that they did not need Bagram.
I don’t know if that’s accurate, but that’s what’s being purported in the media. I could not disagree more. I don’t know what intelligence they’re looking at, because that intelligence hasn’t existed in the 20 years we’ve been in the country. I don’t think it changed overnight or over the course of a week.
So either that’s the position they were advising him or they advised President Biden differently and he chose to leave Bagram anyway. Ultimately the decision is the Commander in Chief’s, so the decision was with President Biden. The surrender of Bagram is having cascading effects on not just our machinery and our weaponry, but our ability to go and save Americans who are stranded in Afghanistan.
Mr. Jekielek: So tell me more about the importance of this space. Why is this such a centerpiece?
Mr. Patel: Sure. Having been there a couple of times, Kabul is basically a civilian runway that is in a valley, meaning it’s surrounded by hills. So from an operational security perspective, that’s not good because you can basically aim down, have height coverage and you are at a vulnerable position on the ground. Bagram, which is about 23 miles away from Kabul, was a separate geographic landscape that the United States owned militarily and were able to securely house both our soldiers and NATO soldiers.
Our allied partners were there as well—not to mention the central hub of military transport, helicopters, airplanes, and different kinds of air assets. It housed billions of dollars of machinery, not just weapons and bombs and guns and ammunition, but also our cyber-capabilities, and our technological capabilities.
To run a theater of war you need a logistical node. Think about it this way. If you wanted to run any sort of operation outside of war, you’d need to be able to service the men and women who were there. You need everything from laundry to food service to mail service to communications equipment to recreation, and to morale and welfare boosting services.
You need to provide this mini-town, all the logistical support needed to function and to operate. That’s what Bagram was for us, and for all of Afghanistan. Basically it was the linchpin, and losing that caused us a cataclysmic implosion of our security posture in the country. We saw the results of it in days with unfortunate bombings by terrorists against our military.
Mr. Jekielek: So in this reality, without the linchpin as you’re describing it, without Bagram, what could be done here at this point?
Mr. Patel: Well there are a couple of things we could restage to retake Bagram and that would require some military lift. I get that the people in the media and the politicians will say, “Oh we’re going back into Afghanistan.” Well, we up and left without a plan. So now it’s the time to implement an actual plan and a strategy that will allow us to safely remove American citizens, our weaponry, our machinery and get out of Afghanistan in a coherent fashion.
If we don’t want to go in and retake Bagram, there are other bases around the country that we could shift operations to, should the Commander in Chief decide to do that. We could take the logistical component and shift it over there, take our security requirements and move them over there, take our allies and house them there, along with our soldiers and have it be at a point for lift as we call it—lift operations for helicopters and airplanes to conduct the necessary security movements in the country to remove American citizens safely.
They could also stage in an outside country near Afghanistan, with capabilities to fly in as needed. Those are multiple options that they could do. I’m not seeing that they’re doing any of them.
Mr. Jekielek: So when it comes to leadership in Afghanistan there are different players. We have the Taliban, and we have the Haqqani network. Actually it would be good to understand the distinction there, because again there’s confusion about that. And then, of course, there’s the “Lion of Panjshir” and Panjshir province in the north which is basically a declared resistance.
Mr. Patel: First let’s just put to bed this notion that there is a distinction between the Taliban and the Haqqani network. The Haqqani network was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the United States government in 2012 under the Obama-Biden administration, which was the right thing to do. Their formal name is the Taliban Haqqani network. There is no distinction between one group and the other in terms of their terrorist capabilities. As a branch of the Taliban they tend to be more violent.
They are the ones that kidnapped most of our hostages. They are the ones, I believe, who have been holding Mark Frerichs for the last two years in the AfPak region. He’s a former Naval officer who was kidnapped about two years ago. I believe they’re holding him and I don’t know what’s become of that. But the notion that the Taliban is not in touch with their partner organization, which is the Taliban Haqqani network, I can’t believe that. The State Department just this last week said they were two totally separate organizations. They’re not.
In terms of leadership, this is the other question people are dodging, “Who is going to run Afghanistan?” And that’s the whole point, it was never going to be us under President Trump. He wanted out, because America didn’t want to be there forever.
So you have to let the people whose country it is come together and work towards a negotiated peace. Whether you like them or hate them, the Taliban number in the hundreds of thousands and have been in Afghanistan for decades. It’s their country. It’s also the country of the Afghan nationals who have been in Afghanistan for decades. So these are two big organizations, two big groups of people who have controlled factions of the government for years. They need to be able to govern together without America’s presence.
In order to do that, you have to engage them. I’m not saying that the Taliban are good people, most of the Taliban are not. Most of the Taliban want to hurt American interests. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t leave without talking to the Taliban. You say, “Will you negotiate a peace with the Afghan government, so you can rule together jointly?” That was always our plan.
So yes, we did negotiate with them, but we put conditions in place to make sure that our citizens and service members were protected and the withdrawal would be done in an orderly fashion. That’s the difference between that withdrawal and what you’re seeing now as an evacuation. I don’t know who in this government is currently talking to the Taliban or whether the Afghans are moving money. I’m not sure of any plan. I’ve looked, and I’ve asked around, and I just don’t see one.
Mr. Jekielek: Then what about the north?
Mr. Patel: The north is very historical in Afghanistan. This guy Massoud who is running this Northern province, this valley up there, his father was the same guy who cleared that area of Afghanistan of the Soviets and others. It’s a very historical region for these people who live there and they want it to be there.
So that’s another faction you have to take into consideration. It’s a repeat of history in that the region was cleared by the so-called Lion of Panjshir back in 1991 for the same reasons—the Soviets’ attempt to secure Afghanistan failed and they wanted to make sure they had their own home territory. So now this government is going to have to go ahead and deal with that reality, fast forward now to 2021.
Mr. Jekielek: Amrullah Saleh, the first Vice President who now is saying he’s the President of Afghanistan, is in that region. Anybody who’s deciding to be not aligned with the Taliban has gone there.
Mr. Patel: That’s one of the problems when you have a collapse of a government and have an implosion as we have had in Afghanistan. Many people are going to lay claim to be leaders of the Afghan people or regions in Afghanistan, not just the Taliban. You have to be able to bring those people together and that is the only way you are going to successfully have a government in place in Afghanistan.
It’s going to be hard, it’s not easy. I’ve been on the ground. I was negotiating with Ghani in just December of this last year with the Secretary of Defense. This is not an easy task but you have to have those conversations. You have to have those meetings, and you have to have assistant mechanisms in place along the way to allow them to have a quid pro quo, if you will, for lack of a better phrase, in terms of the representations each side makes. But no one’s talking to the best of my knowledge.
Mr. Jekielek: We were talking about the distinction between the Taliban and the Haqqani network. What about between ISIS and ISIS-K? I think that could be lost on a number of people.
Mr. Patel: What a great question. Let’s throw Al-Qaeda in there too, so we can delineate the distinctions. Look, ISIS is the global terrorist organization that used to be led by Baghdadi before we took him out. They broke off from Al-Qaeda around 2011, 12. There was Al-Qaeda in Iraq which became ISIS, they have different interests in terms of how they operate.
They both hate America, that’s their common goal. But they, being Al-Qaeda and ISIS, don’t get along. An example of that is in Afghanistan. If you go to the north near the Mazar-i-Sharif region, ISIS-K or what’s known as the ISIS Khorasan province, that’s the region up there in Afghanistan that was fighting Al Qaeda. Since we knew they were fighting each other and not us, under the Trump administration, we let that continue because it’s two terrorist organizations that have been designated that are fighting each other. We don’t need to be in the middle of that.
In this evacuation, in this vacuum and implosion, they realized that, they being ISIS-K and Al-Qaeda, realized that they don’t need to be fighting each other right now. They can inflict a lot more pain on American interests, which is ultimately their goal. It’s always their number one priority, “How do we hurt America and Americans?” With little resources, ISIS-K, a faction of ISIS—they have an official alliance with ISIS headquarters for lack of a better word and they are run by a separate Amir of ISIS-K—they implemented a plan and caused car bombs to explode at a gate that was supposed to be secured by the Taliban.
That gate allowed ingress to the airport so that people could board flights to leave the country. They knew that was probably one of the only gates doing that and they knew that if they just drove one or two of their cars in there, it would inflict mass casualties. Not just our service members, but a total of 200 or so people were killed in that explosion. They can do that with very little resources when they direct their attention against us.
Al-Qaeda is doing the same thing, and the Haqqani network and the Taliban are doing the same thing. They know right now that affecting a significant loss of life for America is achieving their number one priority. I don’t know that they’re going to stop, because there’s nothing there to deter them from that activity anymore.
Mr. Jekielek: What do you make of the fact that the Taliban are facilitating the movement of Americans and the SIV visa holders, from the information we’re getting?
Mr. Patel: I don’t think they’re really helping at all. They’re doing just the opposite and claiming that they’re helping. The fact that right now we have an administration who has said, “How are we going to rescue American citizens stranded in Afghanistan?” They’re going to ask the same Taliban whose security measures failed and led to the bombings that killed 13 U.S. service members.
I don’t agree with their approach on this. Our approach was very different. We would go out and get Americans and secure them before allowing the Taliban to get more of a peace settlement negotiated at the table. So I don’t agree with this approach and I don’t believe the Taliban. The Taliban has changed their course.
They’ve now said publicly, “Since President Biden broke the negotiated peace settlements that we were talking about in May, we’re going to wait you out.” They have now waited him out and are taking over and are running past the August 31st deadline. They are not providing security in and around Kabul like they should be. I have no trust in them right now to do anything on behalf of America.
Mr. Jekielek: Given the current reality, how do you get these remaining people out?
Mr. Patel: The only people I would currently trust to do that is America to get Americans out, maybe with the assistance of our allies. But most of our allies are now gone. And it’s Afghanistan, just to remind everyone. The roads are terrible. There is no public transportation. The security posture is terrible, it is a theater of war.
So the only capable group to do that is the United States military and our intelligence community. The only way you can effectively get them out into the country without more loss of life is by having an intelligence-driven plan to locate where our Americans are.
Now that takes some time. I would have hoped and thought that our government would have been planning for this for these last eight months, planning to locate these Americans. Because if the worst happened we would be able to evacuate them safely. There would be airplanes and helicopters ready with security, personnel, and weapons if needed for our military to go in and get them.
These types of operations require extensive planning from our DOD, and from our IC. They require briefings at the White House. They require an assessment given by the leaders of our different agencies and departments and a recommendation to the President of the United States. Ultimately, in this type of situation, it’s either a green light from the President or a full stop. You can’t do that overnight.
Again, that’s why I go back to the point that this is an evacuation operation which is totally reactionary. They themselves have said, “People are going to be left behind.” For me as an American who served, and I’m sure I share this with so many others, it is unacceptable that there is no plan in place to remove every single American.
Mr. Jekielek: In the last few days we’ve had one group of civilians, ex-special operators actually, on the ground and some people working out of their bedrooms in San Diego coordinating networks. There’s been a civilian effort. Lara Logan has been involved, and Mike Brewer with his team. We’ve had both of them on American Thought Leaders recently. These activities are still happening. In fact, they are promising to continue with these activities in whatever way they can.
Mr. Patel: Here’s the reality. Those activities, in my opinion, should never have had to happen. Having civilians take up the role of government in a theater of war is the ultimate failure of the national security apparatus. However, Americans are so instilled with doing the right thing and not leaving Americans behind that I’m glad these individuals are coming together and banding together and going to continue these efforts. I’ve been part of some of these efforts and probably will engage more heavily in the near future on getting Americans and getting Afghans out.
You’re right, we and the individuals I served with are not going to stop when we hit August 31st. We’re going to keep going. We’ve been sending information there. We’ve been working with our allies and our friends on the ground and they have successfully removed a lot of people. But it’s going to require months worth of more work. If this administration isn’t going to do it. I’m glad these folks that you’re talking about are doing it, and we’re going to continue to be a part of it.
Mr. Jekielek: This also raises an interesting question. There are, of course, a significant number of Afghanis that have worked with Americans who are looking to get out because they literally have targets on their backs for having worked with Americans in the first place. And of course there may also be other people who would want the opportunity to get out.
And of course, there may be people who have ill intent and want to take advantage of this chaotic situation. Have you thought at all about how this should be dealt with in a reasonable way? Because it makes perfect sense to support the people that have been supportive of Americans. How could you not?
Mr. Patel: In general principle, I agree with that. If you’ve helped us in the past, especially in theaters of war then at a time like this, we should be able to help you in return. It reminds me of the situation in Iraq in 2011, 2012 when there was a large-scale invasion to go into Iraq and re-up in that theater of war. We airlifted many of our allies and partners out, back to the United States. As you said, principally, that’s the right thing to do and I agree with that.
The problem then, and that’s the problem I’m going to get at now, is that some of the individuals that were transported to the United States of America were actually ISIS and it took us months to figure that out and find them, because we didn’t do an appropriate vetting procedure on them.
So fast forward to Afghanistan. We are moving way more people out at a much higher rate of speed. Tens of thousands are arriving at military bases in the U.S. You have to have a plan in place if you’re going to vet them properly—running them through the entire intelligence community, running them through the CIA, the NSA, the DOD, the DIA and all these other databases and letting our intelligence officers digest the information about the people that we’re evacuating.
You can’t do that in an evacuation that’s an emergency reaction to a situation. You can’t do that when you transport tens of thousands of people to America.
Now I want every single one of the people that has helped us to be evacuated safely. But the reality of the situation and the fear I have is there was no vetting procedure to look at these people’s backgrounds and now they’re on U.S soil. There is no plan as to what we’re going to do with them. These folks can’t live on military bases their entire lives. They’re civilians from a foreign country.
Knowing Al Qaeda and how they operate, knowing ISIS and how they operate, knowing the Haqqani network and the Taliban and how they operate—I don’t actually have access to the intelligence anymore—I’m telling you those guys are taking advantage of the airlifts to place their operatives on these planes, so they can get a free ride to America. My fear is that they’re going to start inflicting harm on U.S soil and our vetting procedures just did not exist to the extent they needed to or to how we normally do it.
So with the numbers that they’ve allowed into the country—I hope I’m wrong and I hope everyone here is clear and innocent and wants to succeed in America—but I just don’t see how that can be mathematically possible with the amount of people we’ve let in the country.
Mr. Jekielek: But you’re saying with adequate strong vetting procedures and the right amount of time, this is conceivable?
Mr. Patel: Yes. We do these vetting procedures all over the world, it’s not like they don’t exist. We don’t just do them in theaters of war, we don’t just do it in Afghanistan, Syria, and Somalia and Iraq. We do them all over the country. The U.S is conducting operations or helping our allies all over the world. If we have informants that help us, if we have allies that help us on the ground in different locations in whatever country, there is a system in place to help protect those people if their lives are jeopardized or if their family’s lives are threatened.
So we have procedures in place to remove them. The vetting process is critical to that, it’s the critical first step to make sure we’re removing people who actually have America’s interests at heart. While it’s not a hundred per cent, it is very close to a hundred per cent if done correctly. And we just haven’t done that now.
Mr. Jekielek: So what’s the next step with this, in your mind.
Mr. Patel: With everybody that has hit American soil we have to extensively vet them here. Now, I don’t know what the plan is to do that while they’re housed on American military bases. But I would be putting together teams of intelligence officers, national security officials, law enforcement, FBI, Department of Homeland security and I would be sending these teams out to these separate bases and one by one categorically and methodically go through these individuals. Look for what we call derogatory information in our databases and run all those names against criminal databases that we have, Interpol databases that are available to us and talk to our allies and partners about their connections in different parts of the world. That’s how you do a full scrub to see if we in America believe they don’t pose a security threat to our interests here.
That is a gigantic lift that requires, like in Afghanistan, it would have required an extensive planning operation and I haven’t seen that from this administration.
Mr. Jekielek: Kash, as we finish up here, we’ve been seeing some pretty terrifying-looking graphics of how much U.S weaponry and vehicles have been left in the country. But there’s also been reports that they’ve been unable to use, for example, the Black Hawk helicopters that were left behind. So what do you make of this? Is there some way remaining to salvage this?
Mr. Patel: Part of our conditions-based withdrawal under President Trump was that we would remove all the weapons and machinery that we could. The last thing we would do once we had secured a peace negotiation was destroy the remaining weaponry in the country that we couldn’t lift it out. To me, there’s no distinction on the harm to America on whether or not you can or can’t operate a certain piece of equipment or whether or not you can or can’t operate a Black Hawk or a what we call crew service weapons or munitions or bombs, because they’re there for our enemies to examine.
They can break them open and look at our complicated, secure infrastructure systems such as a Black Hawk, such as tanks, such as armored personnel carriers and they can reverse engineer how to make things that will harm us. They can use the components from that equipment and machinery to inflict pain on us. It is a strategic mis-step of the highest order to leave some 85 billion dollars worth of equipment in Afghanistan.
The people that now have it are terrorists, and make no mistake that’s who’s taking this equipment. We’ve all seen the photos. They are going to use this equipment and technology for years against the United States of America.
The fact that we have evacuated and surrendered Afghanistan without a plan again, is highlighted by this failure to secure our equipment. It’s not only going to hurt American interests, it’s going to hurt our allies’ interests, which they’ve spoken up about tremendously. Because the industrial defense complex in America is second to none in the world. We provide our allies with helicopters and jets. We build the best stuff, we have the best rifles, we have the best weaponry and now the terrorists have all of it, and that’s not good.
Mr. Jekielek: This 85 billion number, I’ve heard it a lot. I’ve heard very different numbers too. Where does that come from?
Mr. Patel: It’s the best guesstimate that I can come up with the information that’s publicly available. You have to remember in two decades, $2 trillion was spent in Afghanistan. How much of that equipment has been shuttered throughout the country? How much wasn’t collected? How much has been stolen? How much has been given away based on the public reporting of armored personnel carriers, tanks, Jeeps, weapons, munitions, ordinances, and helicopters? That’s our best guesstimate, as a ballpark figure, of what was taken.
Mr. Jekielek: Kash, I think it’s time for our weekly shoutout.
Mr. Patel: Yes. So this week’s shoutout goes to Eric Reinhold, aka Rhino. He’s a big supporter of Kash’s Corner and also a local hockey player in the community. We appreciate your support of our program and also congratulations on your upcoming wedding.
All right everybody, thanks for tuning in and we’ll see you next week on Kash’s corner.
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