Leave No Man Behind – R.I.P, July 4, 1776, to August 31, 2021

By Gary M. Jackson, PhD

*This is an article from the Fall 2021 issue of Combat Stress

Mission, duty, honor, pride, patriotism – these sincere and deeply engrained symbolic words are what comes to mind when we think of our dedicated military who knowingly risk their lives, lose their lives, or return home severely injured, dismembered, or suffer severely from long-term maladies such as PTSD. Our troops have been forever faithful to successful missions, our country, fellow members, and to keeping our homeland safe. Leave no man (person) behind, in particular, has been the golden rule firmly embedded in virtually all military thoughts, commitments, and actions since the beginning of our country. This dedication is the core of the airman’s creed, I will never leave an airman behind, the soldier’s hardened rule to live and fight by, I will never leave a fallen comrade,1 and the all-popular Semper Fi call of the Marines (Semper Fidelis – always faithful). It has always been the case, and we unquestionably thought it always would be. With deeply felt sadness and sorrow, we were proven wrong.

Dedicated military have risked their lives to retrieve those knowingly dead, injured, trapped or held hostage behind enemy lines. This has included the rescue of citizens and allies stranded in hostile and dangerous lands. The leave no man behind ethos began with the formation of our country and ended with the shameful U.S. retreat from the 20-year war in Afghanistan at midnight on August 30, 2021. August 31, 2021 was the date President Joe Biden, backed up by his top administration and military leaders, had declared for the complete military troop evacuation from Afghanistan. I might add, at all costs.

President Biden had first declared a September 11, 2021 deadline for complete military evacuation to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the U.S.2 On that infamous September morning two decades ago 19 Taliban supported Al-Qaeda suicide terrorists hijacked U.S. airliners and killed nearly 3,000 innocent Americans in their heartless suicide attacks on our homeland. After declaring the September 11, 2021 date for withdrawal of all troops, President Biden stated the 20-year war was over, and it was safer to withdraw earlier. He then moved the date up to August 31, 2021. Once this new clearly arbitrary date was declared, the Taliban held him to it and insisted on the 31st, as they rapidly closed in on the last needed conquest – Kabul, Afghanistan.

President Biden was dedicated to the August 31st day as the number one priority and ignored known tactical methods of withdrawing troops, equipment, armaments, and supplies from a war-torn country. The date would be met at all costs. Near midnight on August 30th, all U.S. troops had been evacuated and with full intent hundreds of U.S. citizens and many thousands of U.S. troop-faithful Afghans were left behind along with $85 billion of war equipment and armaments. To use an old term, the U.S. had cut and ran.

Our country has lost credibility worldwide, and our allies are shocked and enraged at the manner of the Biden-commanded August 31st U.S. troop withdrawal – which turned out to be more of an unconditional retreat, if not surrender. Forget the political spin, this was a disaster by any reasonable perspective. The hasty irresponsible retreat was just evidence for the continuing presence of poor judgment that had allowed a terrorist attack on August 26, 2021. On this day, an ISIS-K suicide bomber passed multiple U.S. approved Taliban checkpoints to detonate in the midst of a chaotic crowd attempting to flee the recent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Those wanting to flee were panic-stricken and clamored around the Abbey Gate entrance of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan by the thousands. All were basically begging to gain entry to the flights helping to evacuate U.S. citizens, Afghanis who had risked their lives for decades to assist U.S. forces, and Afghan citizens not wanting to face the horrific restrictions of Islamic Sharia law most assuredly awaiting them – especially for women and young girls.

In the midst of the chaos, U.S. troops were trying to manage the unrelenting press of the crowds at the gate amidst clearly announced warnings of imminent terrorist attacks to be directed at the airport. To the horror of all who watched the retreat of U.S. troops in real time, the Taliban, dedicated supporters of Al-Qaeda, were trusted by the President Biden directed fiasco to manage perimeter security outside the gates. To the surprise of very few, if any, the Taliban guarding the airport perimeter for the U.S. managed to let the explosive laden suicide vehicle pass through all multiple Taliban checkpoints. Without any attempt to stop the vehicle, the suicide bomber driven truck reached the targeted clamoring crowd, and the driver detonated the explosives. It was a horrific explosion which violently tore apart the bodies and lives of 13 U.S. military personnel and 182 civilians.

Although horrific in many ways, it was clear to many this attack was avoidable and forever more will symbolize the embarrassing and rushed retreat from Afghanistan completed five days later. There are many unanswered questions which, if single spaced, would exceed the length of this article. To state a few at the top of the list: How could we possibly have trusted longtime al-Qaeda supporters, the Taliban, to provide perimeter security at the Hamid Karzai International Airport as U.S. troops valiantly labored 24/7 to evacuate men, women, and children to meet the unrealistic August 31st deadline just five days away? What were our military leaders thinking? We had fought the Taliban in Afghanistan for 20 years and now they were being trusted to provide perimeter security by controlling checkpoints! Why weren’t announced warnings of terrorist attacks to be directed to that very target not taken more seriously? Most importantly and most unforgiveable, why were 13 military members assigned to crowd control outside the gate amidst numerous and frequent threats of attack and with the America-hating Taliban providing perimeter security? Credulity has been stretched to a maximum.

The less than adequate U.S. management of troop evacuation during the rush to meet the arbitrary August 31st deadline simply underscored the obvious lack of adherence to the centuries old leave no man behind commitment. American citizens and Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders who risked their lives for many years to assist the U.S. military were told by the U.S. they would be evacuated if they made it to the airport through the aforementioned Taliban controlled checkpoints. Seriously? Those in control actually trusted the Taliban to provide approved passage to American citizens and those 20,000 to 30,000 Afghan U.S. sympathizers who worked against them by providing assistance to the hated U.S. military over the many years war? Why didn’t the military retrieve them? If more troops were needed, then they should have been provided. If it took longer than August 31st, then the deadline should have been extended. It was impossible to make it through checkpoints – alive. This is elementary, and any Service Member in boot camp knows better.

It was not the desire to withdraw troops from Afghanistan after a 20-year war that is in question. It was the hasty and reckless “do not care” manner in which we dropped everything and left at all costs. It was the manner in which we rapidly began the evacuation of all troops and embassy personnel with no notification to allies who also had skin in the game in this long-standing war. The withdrawal of all troops, beginning with the unannounced evacuation of the Bagram Airbase, was chaotic and a disaster by any reasonable assessment, including President Biden abdicating responsibility for leaving no man behind. To use an old term, we cut and ran.

Strong statements, indeed. So, let’s examine the more significant events leading up to and included in this tragic surrender:

  • April 14, 2021 – President Joe Biden publicly announced that, after two decades, the U.S. would withdraw all troops from Afghanistan. Stating that his predecessor had made a commitment to Afghanistan to leave, President Biden stated, “But the United States will withdraw its troops in a safe, deliberate and responsible manner and in full coordination with its partners and allies in Afghanistan.” 2
  • July 1, 2021 – Under the cover of darkness, the U.S. military abandoned the highly fortified Bagram Airbase without notifying the Afghanistan base commander or any U.S. allies. The base commander learned of the abandonment two hours after the rapid and complete exit. The abandonment of the fortified Bagram Airbase left the far less secure Hamid Karzai International Airport as the single egress point for the evacuation of troops, U.S. citizens, and trusted Afghan workers from Afghanistan.
  • Then President Biden stated reason for the rapid withdrawal of forces was that Afghanistan forces would take over, but they folded in an unanticipated and unplanned manner in just two days as the Taliban took control of the country. On August 15th in the midst of the rapid collapse of the Afghan military, President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan by air to Uzbekistan before going to the United Arab Emirates where he gained political asylum.3
  • On August 18, 2021 in a widely broadcast President Biden ABC News interview, President Biden was asked, “Are you committed to making sure that the troops stay until every American who wants to be out is out?” President Biden answered, “If there are American citizens left, we’re going to stay until we get them all out.”4
  • Twelve days later, on August 30, 2021 at 11:59 pm, the U.S. military flew the last plane from the Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport, leaving no troops as the Taliban completed its takeover. Although President Joe Biden had completed his commitment to leave by August 31, 2021, the retreat occurred at unconscionable costs.
  • August 31, 2021 marked the total evacuation of the U.S. military and diplomatic presence from Kabul. A shameful exhibition of ignoring the revered policy of leave no man behind, it was a retreat heard around the world. An untold number of U.S. citizens and many thousands of Afghan loyalists were left to hide and escape the best way they could amidst a promise that diplomatic means would be used to help them exit – whatever that meant. There was no diplomatic presence left! Clearly, those stranded were left with no plan.
  • By the end of the retreat, or surrender, from Afghanistan, the U.S. troop led effort had airlifted 122,000 from Afghanistan to foreign countries. Yet less than 5% were
  • On August 31, 2021, amidst much criticism, a defiant President Biden, in his speech to the nation, branded the rapid, no condition retreat as an “extraordinary success.” This demands repeating. Just 24 hours after troops were withdrawn and in the aftermath of losing 13 troops and 185 civilians in an unfortunate and likely preventable suicide terrorist attack, and knowingly leaving many hundreds of American citizens, many thousands of SIV holders, and an estimated 85 billion dollars in equipment and armaments behind to the Taliban, President Biden labeled the unconditional retreat as an “extraordinary success.” Political Spin is too polite of a term – this is outright lying. If this was a success by any definition, I shudder even more to think of what a failure would have been. Could any one person trying to fail to leave no man behind have done worse? I think not.

The Aftermath

There was a worldwide outcry, particularly among our allies, about the surprising and disastrous evacuation of U.S. military troops and diplomatic personnel from Afghanistan. Yes, troops were gone, and no embassy or related staff remained. While indicating that the U.S. would use diplomatic means and leverage against the Taliban to release those left behind, little evidence has been available to indicate what diplomatic means would be used other than negotiating with the American hating Taliban. It is ludicrous that an arbitrary date of withdrawal would be enforced at all costs resulting in leaving men behind and at the mercy of our negotiations with the Taliban.

Many questioned what possible leverage the U.S. could have with the Taliban who now controlled the country and maintained control of those left behind. Did leverage equate to ransom being paid by the U.S. under any other name? Would we promise increased standing as a new country on a worldwide basis to a country harboring dozens to hundreds of terrorist organizations? The questions are endless.

On September 6, 2021 a U.S. citizen mother and her three children were the first known to escape Afghanistan since the August 31, 2021 U.S. troop evacuation. A private group with private funding comprised of retired Veterans were able to extract the four after weeks of tireless work. The U.S. State Department released a statement that it had facilitated the release. This was discounted as not truthful by the private rescue team, as well as the mother. They stated the U.S. State Department had little to nothing to do with the rescue.8 Although six days after the troop evacuation, President Biden had not addressed the Afghanistan debacle other than stating in his August 31st national address that all was an extraordinary success.

U.S. citizens and Afghan SIV holders left behind is the most egregious result of the reckless attempt at troop withdrawal in a war that lasted 20 years. But, if leaving many behind was not enough, much more than men were left behind. The aftermath of the withdrawal resulted in the leaving behind of a shocking amount of clearly operational U.S. war equipment and armaments left to the notorious Taliban. There was no attempt to disable or remove an amazing amount of wartime capability. Although the retreat included disabling equipment left at the Hamid Karzai International Airport, this was a pittance compared to what capability was left for the Taliban. Many images and videos surfaced of the Taliban wearing U.S. military clothing and sitting in aircraft as well as driving through the streets in U.S. vehicles.

At the time of the complete withdrawal, the Afghanistan military fled and even the President of Afghanistan was gone. Who was the U.S. abandoned $85 billion of war equipment to go to other than the Taliban? There was only the Taliban, who has quickly become the best equipped in the world whether they are labeled as insurgents or terrorists, thanks to the U.S. retreat. To fully grasp what was left behind and why the result is of grave concern for worldwide safety, the following list is provided for context:

  • Vehicles: 42,604 light tactical vehicles, 22,174 Humvees, 8,998 medium tactical vehicles (MTV), 1,005 recovery vehicles, 928 mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles, and 189 armored personnel carriers, for a total of 75,898 vehicles in working order.5
  • Military Equipment: 600,000 infantry weapons including M16 assault rifles, 162,000 units of communication equipment, and 16,000 sets of night vision goggles; and from an armaments count: 61,000 M203 rounds, 20,040 grenades, Howitzers, mortars +1,000’s of rounds, 10,000 2.75 inch air to ground rockets, reconnaissance equipment (ISR), laser aiming units, explosives ordnance C-4, semtex, detonators, shaped charges, thermite, incendiaries, AP/API/APIT, 2,520 bombs. Also, administration encrypted cell phones and laptops — all operational, pallets of millions of dollars in US currency, millions of rounds of ammunition including but not limited to 20,150,600 rounds of 7.62mm, 9,000,000 rounds of 50.caliber, large stockpile of plate carriers and body armor, and US Military HIIDE, for Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment Biometrics.6
  • Aircraft: 43 MD-530 helicopters, 33 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters, 32 Mi-17 helicopters, 33 C-208/AC-208 planes, 29 A-29 light attack planes, 3 C-130 Hercules military transport planes, for a total of 173 high performing military aircraft all in working order.7

What else could be wrong? First and foremost, there are numerous reports from a variety of respectable sources that U.S. citizens and SIV and green card holders are being held hostage. Reports started on September 5, 2021 that six planes holding such passengers were sitting on the tarmac at the Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport in northern Afghanistan and had been there for some days. These planes were kept from leaving by the Taliban. On September 9, 2021, apparently one plane was allowed to leave by the Taliban. It is clear that as this article is completed and submitted the fear of the Taliban using those left behind as hostages to gain leverage and ransom of any sort is happening.

Yes, our beloved creed of leave no man behind died on August 31, 2021 when all U.S. troops under our Commander in Chief’s directed retreat from Afghanistan was complete to his satisfaction. The retreat occurred with full intent to leave a yet unknown number of U.S. citizens and Afghan helpers behind in addition to $85 billion in military equipment to the Taliban. We are left to assume that leave no man behind has become leave at all costs to meet an imposed arbitrary deadline and leave some men behind. The politically charged August 31, 2021 deadline as a 9/11 anniversary ploy took precedence over our typical dedication to a mission where all equipment is retrieved or disabled, and no man is left behind. Even in the unlikely event that all are retrieved by diplomatic means after the fact, the retreat from Afghanistan will forever be known as leaving men behind by intent.

My former and now late office director at the Central Intelligence Agency, Frank Anderson, preached to us the slogan, Mission, Men, and Me. This was stated as the priority to always be followed. The U.S. troop withdrawal completed on August 31, 2021 was the first example ever of Me, Mission, and Men last. In fact, mission and men were an afterthought. Yes, R.I.P. leave no man behind, but resilient America will resurrect reason and dedication to this very powerful promise to our fellow man. You can count on it.

References

1. Bjorkman, E.A., Leave no one behind: A commitment we must continue to make, Military Times, August 24, 2020.

2. Cronk, T.M., Biden Announces Full U.S. Troop Withdrawal FromAfghanistan by Sept. 11, DOD News, April 14, 2021.

3. Turak, N. and Macias, A., Afghan President Ashraf Ghani resurfaces in UAE after fleeing Kabul, Emirati government says, CNBC, August 18, 2021.

4. ABC News, Full transcript of ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos’ interview with President Joe Biden, ABC News, August 19, 2021.

5.Andrzejewski, A.,Staggering Costs–U.S. Military Equipment Left Behind In Afghanistan, Forbes, August 23, 2021.

6. Wos, D., Full List of American War Weapons Lost In Afghanistan, AmmoLand News.August 26, 2021.

7. BBC News, Afghanistan: What was left behind by US forces?BBC News: The Visual Journalism Team, August 31, 2021.

8. Hasson, P., State Dept trying to steal credit for Afghanistan rescue, organizer says: ‘Total lie,’ The New York Times, September 7, 2021

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Gary M. Jackson is the CEO and President of ANBECO, LLC. Trained as a behavioral psychologist with specialties in artificial intelligence and automated assessment, Dr. Jackson has designed and developed scores of advanced applications across both corporate and U.S. Government settings. Dr. Jackson’s career has spanned academia as a professor, director of R&D and treatment development in various clinical settings, psychologist within the U.S. Secret Service Intelligence Division, Intelligence Officer and Chief of three advanced technology branches within the Central Intelligence Agency, vice president and director of research and development for a major psychological test development company, Director of the Center for the Advancement of Intelligent Systems (CAIS) for the American Institutes for Research and, the founding president and CEO of Psynapse Technologies in Washington DC.  Dr. Jackson has extensive R&D and operational field experience in counterterrorism, counterintelligence, counternarcotics, and asymmetric warfare prediction, tracking, and locating. He holds BA and PhD degrees from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and an MA degree from the University of Illinois-Springfield. He has completed additional postdoctoral training in neurophysiology at the University of South Florida Medical School. Dr. Jackson has obtained multiple patents and is the inventor of the patented automated behavior assessment Checkmate network intrusion protection system, Inmate network misuse detection system for insider threat, Automated Behavior Analysis (AuBA) technology and tools and insider threat applications. His latest books include: Predicting Malicious Behavior: Tools and Techniques for Ensuring Global Security (Wiley & Sons, 2012), and Surviving Mass Victim Attacks: What to do When the Unthinkable Happens (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018). [email protected], 443-510-8904

 

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