Yes, we can be reasonably certain that the Pentagon didn’t put KILL LIST at the top of these memos. And to a certain extent, one can understand the argument for creating pass-through lists to the terrorists to whom we ceded control of Kabul as the best of all possible options to get our people into the airport.
However, Jake Sullivan’s spin on CNN’s State of the Union that somehow this was a risk-free example of coordination — plus quibbling over the size of the list — hides the fact that this necessity only got created by Joe Biden’s disastrous execution of an ill-advised total withdrawal of Afghanistan.
Plus, Antony Blinken more or less concedes the point about the lists on NBC’s Meet the Press anyway. Watch them in order:
And over on CNN, Jake Tapper grilled NSA Jake Sullivan on the administration giving a “kill list” to the Taliban. Sullivan’s argument was that they didn’t give them “all” the names just small lists. But he couldn’t say if the small lists were used against Americans or allies. pic.twitter.com/zflv5ZHoY0
— Nicholas Fondacaro (@NickFondacaro) August 29, 2021
TAPPER: There are questions, of course, about how much you’re going to be able to do that without a U.S. presence in Afghanistan. But I want you — you talked about the commitment to Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants. There was a report that the Biden administration has not disputed that U.S. government employees gave a list of Afghan SIVs who the U.S. is trying of evacuate through the Taliban so as to allow them through checkpoints. I understand the U.S. has relied upon the Taliban for this evacuation process. But with all due respect, a lot of these Afghan SIVs, as you know better than I, they think the Talibans are going to kill them. And you’ve given them a list of their names.
SULLIVAN: Jake, we’ve actually aggressively and decisively disputed that report. We have given no list of all of the American SIV holders to the Taliban or any other kind of big list.
Emphasis mine. That’s certainly a relief. So what qualifies as “big,” anyway? A thousand names? Five hundred? Twenty thousand? Sullivan goes on to insist that they needed to cough up the names to get people through the Taliban checkpoints that the US more or less defaulted into existence in the first place:
SULLIVAN: What your viewers need to seriously understand is that the way that we are moving thousands and thousands of Afghans at risk to the airport is asking them to muster, many of them on buses, bringing them to the airport, and then we work with the Taliban, group by group, bus by bus, to get them through the Taliban checkpoints and onto the airport compound. That is the type of coordination we’ve done with the Taliban. That has resulted in journalists and women and pilots and other SIVs being able to get through and get on planes and out of the country. But some idea that we’re handing over databases or lists to the Taliban is simply unfounded and inaccurate. What we’re doing is working with — for discrete groups of individuals to get them on to the airfield. That has allowed us to literally move thousands and tens of thousands of people through Kabul, to the airport, and out of the country.
TAPPER: Well, there was a Pentagon official in that report that referred to this as a kill list. Are you disputing that any of this information was given? Or are you just disputing that it was a huge comprehensive list? I mean, maybe there was a smaller list and those SIVs did not get into the airport. Is there any — is there any chance that that happened?
SULLIVAN: I have just laid out for you the process that we have used, which was to have groups of people move to locations that we have identified, to work with the Taliban to get them through those locations and through the airport. And we have not, to my knowledge, had instances where, when we have coordinated to get a particular movement onto the airfield outside of HKIA, that we have been unable to get that group that we, the United States government, has said, this is a priority for us, we need to move it on to the airfield.
Of course, there have been people turned away at Taliban checkpoints. And we are now working to try to resolve all of those cases, so that, if there is anyone eligible to come to the United States, we’re able to get them here. But the idea of what you just quoted from a Pentagon official is not, flat-out not correct. There is no such — quote, unquote — “kill list.” That is — it is nonsense, it is irresponsible and unfounded reporting.
We did “share lists of Americans and others with the Taliban,” as Chuck Todd points out and Blinken finally admits. Blinken and Sullivan claim that the lists were limited to those who were already on buses needing to get through Taliban gates. However, how many people were being directed to bus-based rally points? The State Department cables over the past couple of weeks don’t contain any such instruction; instead, they advised Americans and others to make their own way to the gates and to work with the Taliban at those points to be let through.
Did we give the Taliban those names as well? Wouldn’t that make sense, once you’ve made the Taliban the authority for literal gatekeeping at your evacuation site? If we did — and that was what multiple media outlets reported from multiple sources — then we effectively gave the Taliban a hostage list, if not an outright kill list, especially since many of those Americans and allies never could make it to the airport.
None of this would have been necessary in the first place had the US military remained in place to secure Kabul ahead of the evacuation. Pulling the military out first, and then opting to let the Taliban invest Kabul prior to the evacuation, created the circumstances from which all of these bad options flowed. It’s utter nonsense to quibble now about “big” lists while the White House prepares to abandon hundreds and perhaps thousands of Americans behind Taliban lines, not to mention our Afghan partners and other Western nationals. That is the real outcome of their policy, and the lists are just one of the more egregious artifacts of it.