Where Are You, Mr. President?

By Derrick Anderson / TownHall / Sept 11, 2021

“What is/was your plan Mr. President? What was your contingency plan when the first shot was fired?  Regardless of what that answer is, our Veterans and their families, Gold Star families, the Afghan people, and the American people deserve that basic statement.”

This past June, I visited the graves of two of my former Green Berets, Jason McDonald and Scott Studenmund.  Both interred at Arlington National Cemetery, and both killed on June 9, 2014 in the largest friendly fratricide incident in the history of our war in Afghanistan.  As I soberly walked out of Section 60, known as the “saddest acre in America” and where most of our service members killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried, I reflected on their efforts and sacrifices, and those of other service members that lie nearby, and how these sacrifices, as tragic as they are, were not made in vain. 

Unfortunately, after watching tragedy unfold in Kabul—and more importantly, witnessing the shameful words and actions of the current administration’s highest-level officials over the last few weeks, I have been forced to reevaluate my sentiments and question the intentions and competency of the people we entrust to make national security decisions and deploy our military with honor.  

As both a Ranger School student and later as a Special Forces Qualification Course candidate, I distinctly remember my peers and I being relentlessly questioned about contingency plans by our instructors. “Captain, what is your contingency plan when X happens and X destroys your plan?” or “What is the most dangerous course of action for this operation?”  These “contingency inquisitions,” as I called them, were a necessary process that made us think through all eventualities and prepared my teams and me for the unexpected nature of conducting combat operations, which served me throughout my career and during the preparations that led to six overseas deployments.  Many times these questions were asked when my Operational Detachment Alpha (“A-Team”) had only hours or days to plan an operation.  But however vexing these questions seemed, they were important, because, and as we jokingly say in the Army and based on a quote from the famous military theorist Carl von Clausewitz: “Every plan is a good one—until the first shot is fired.”  

I found myself thinking about my military service, my brothers in arms–both Afghan and American—and about my training on planning contingency operations as I watched in horror alongside most Americans over these past weeks.  It is important to recognize the current administration was not the first administration to coordinate the withdrawal in Afghanistan.  On April 14, 2021, President Biden announced a four-month postponement of former President Trump’s deadline, stating that the troops “will be out of Afghanistan” before Americans mark the 20th anniversary of “that heinous attack on September 11th.”

However, we must not lose sight of the one key difference between the Trump and Biden Afghanistan withdrawal plans.  The former President had a plan to keep the Taliban in check by ensuring a small contingency force overwatched the Taliban to ensure they remained accountable, whereas the latter, and to be completely blunt, prefers to hope for the best and place trust in an enemy that has proven unworthy of such trust.  When President Biden was asked legitimate questions by reporters during his first press conference, it appeared that the only “plan,” was to shift blame towards the military leaders who “instructed” him, or in the alternative, blame former President Trump.  

And while Clausewitz’s “shots fired” theory relies on some semblance of a plan; here, when thirteen service members were killed in a suicide attack on August 26th, I question whether the administration even had a plan at all.  The absence of such has left me, our Veterans, Gold Star Families, the Afghans, and the American public in a state of mixed emotions. 

While few anticipated the speed in which the Taliban would take over the country, this is not the first time they have used such tactics.  In early-2014, my Special Forces team conducted operations for several months, in hopes of clearing out any Taliban pockets in preparation of the 2014 Afghan presidential elections, however, the Taliban remained fairly dormant.  But when the 2014 Afghan presidential elections started to take form and word came down from the Obama administration that the U.S. was to begin retrograde operations (i.e., packing up and consolidating bases), the Taliban saw a publicity opportunity.  Rather than fighting us head-on, the Taliban used our vulnerability to attack us and frame it as a U.S. retreat.   When in reality, we were simply fighting the Taliban as we were packing our bags and consolidating to other locations, i.e. Kabul and Kandahar. 

To think the Taliban and its affiliate organizations would not repeat these tactics is a complete oversight and shows the Biden administration’s misunderstanding of the conflict, at best, or at worse, a willful disregard for the actual situation and people in Afghanistan as part of their political calculus.  This is especially concerning now that the Taliban is claiming victory over Afghan resistance forces in the Panjshir Valley (with the reported help of Pakistani ISI orchestrated air attacks and commandos).      

The world is asking:  What is/was your plan Mr. President? To pull all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan? Without a coordinated and reintegration plan for our Afghan partners with SIVs?  Without any oversight of the Taliban during our withdrawal? Without a diplomatic plan to facilitate relationships with the current Afghan government and the Taliban?—and most importantly, what was your contingency plan when the first shot was fired, i.e. when the Taliban refused to uphold their end of the deal.  Moreover, what is your answer to the U.S. service members, their families, and our allies, that sacrificed 20 years of life and limb overseas; and back stateside: missed marriages, births, graduations, and birthdays?

These questions should be asked, and the Biden Administration must answer and be held accountable.  Regardless of what that answer is, our Veterans and their families, Gold Star families, the Afghan people, and the American people deserve that basic statement. 

More importantly, and regardless of the Biden administration’s answers, the country cannot and will not be able to heal without a way forward, which will require unity as a country—something we have, and MUST do.  As such, we must A) reach back out to the Afghan resistance forces to see how we can help and ensure stability to guarantee that another 9/11 does not happen again, B) develop a real plan centered around on the ground intelligence gathering, and C) be on the same page with our greatest allies, most of whom lost many of their own citizens in this 20 year fight  

Derrick Anderson is a former Special Forces “Green Beret” with 6 tours of duty overseas, including in Afghanistan, Iraq, and various countries throughout the Middle East. He is currently a Major in the U.S. National Guard and practices law in Virginia. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the policies or positions of the United States Army, Department of Defense, or United States Government.