President Joe Biden immediately blamed former President Donald Trump for America’s chaotic 2022 exit from the war-torn country. According to a new State Department report, that shifting of responsibility was not entirely fair.
“The decisions of both President Trump and President Biden to end the U.S. military mission posed significant challenges for the [State] Department as it sought to maintain a robust diplomatic and assistance presence in Kabul and provide continued support to the Afghan government and people,” the report states.
Furthermore, the State Department’s review finds that some of the choices made by Biden “compounded the difficulties” diplomats faced in Afghanistan, such as the speed at which the military withdrew and handed over Bagram Air Base to the Afghan government in July 2021, leaving Hamid Karzai International Airport as the sole evacuation route.
Additionally, while the White House previously said that Biden directed government agencies to prepare for “all contingencies,” the State Department inquiry found disorganization in the highest level of government, saying it was “unclear who in the department had the lead” on evacuation efforts.
Biden did not specifically address the report’s findings when he was asked about them.
War in Afghanistan
Officially, the Afghanistan War began in October 2001. Unofficially, it began in December 1979. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on Christmas Day, ostensibly to prop up a Kremlin-friendly regime. But to the Afghans, the Soviets were just the latest in a long line of foreign invaders.
Then-President Jimmy Carter, who was unwilling to wreck the spirit of detente, strongly condemned the invasion but did not do much about it. His successor, Ronald Reagan, had no such hang-ups. He approved a number of covert operations, including a call for jihad (holy war). Soon, Muslim extremists from across the world were in Afghanistan fighting the infidels.
The jihadists fared poorly at first. By the late 1980s, deteriorating conditions in the Soviet Union and additional CIA money turned the tide. The United States won the war it indirectly fought. But then, as had happened before and would happen again, it lost the peace.
Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, pulled the plug and left the country. With no common enemy to fight and no happy ending in sight, the aforementioned Muslim extremists became warlords instead of rebels. One of these groups eventually became the Taliban. Most of us know how that story ended.
Withdrawal From Afghanistan
The Afghanistan War had multiple causes, not the least of which was the Taliban’s close relationship with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Likewise, the messy withdrawal from Afghanistan had multiple causes.
In February 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed the Doha Accords. The U.S. agreed to withdraw if the Taliban promised to behave. Although a promise from a group like the Taliban usually isn’t too reliable, then-President Donald Trump relied on it anyway and began withdrawing troops.
The next year, the Taliban continued its aggressive ways. Nevertheless, President Joe Biden accelerated the withdrawal timetable and, according to some, ignored military advice regarding the need for a token force to stay behind.
NATO completely pulled out in July 2021. U.S. intelligence officers believed Kabul would fall within a few months. So, Biden reversed course and deployed more troops to the area.
The additional troops were too little, too late. Fighting continued, and the proverbial “last plane out” left Kabul just before midnight on August 30. Then, the Taliban began rounding up suspected collaborators. No one in the United States is really sure what happened to these people.
Contractors in Afghanistan
The Afghanistan War, like most foreign wars, was never a particularly popular war. In these situations, private military contractors often do much of the heavy lifting. In fact, during much of the war, private military contractors outnumbered regular servicemembers in Afghanistan.
By law, contractors cannot participate in offensive military actions. But that prohibition leaves plenty of room for other assignments, such as:
- Training: Even if they support a foreign war, everyone wants such a conflict to end as quickly as possible. Contractors effectively train their replacements, mostly because contractors have practical counterinsurgency experience.
- Escort/Security: Regular servicemembers sometimes view escort and guard duty as punishment. But contractors embrace these roles, mostly because many contractors are former law enforcement officers and, therefore, accustomed to such assignments.
- Maintenance: Firepower and air superiority are the two biggest advantages government security forces have in counterinsurgency efforts. Contractors help ensure that sophisticated weapons systems, and other machines and electronics, are always good to go.
Contractors also serve in other “back office” capacities in foreign wars, such as waste disposal burn pit maintenance, that no one else wants to perform.
Injury Compensation Available
The Afghanistan War is finally over, but many war wounds, such as toxic exposure illnesses, might not appear for many more years.
We mentioned burn pits above. These huge, open-air waste disposal pits belched toxic smoke. The toxic particles affected many people in the camp, especially contractors and others who maintained these pits. Facemasks and other breathing protection were inadequate protection. Toxic particles can enter the body through the eyes and, in some cases, absorb directly through the skin.
Regular servicemembers only recently became eligible for VA disability benefits for toxic exposure injuries. But private military contractors have been eligible for these benefits since before the pandemic. A Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge ruled that deployment-related lung disease, a toxic exposure breathing condition, was compensable under the Defense Base Act.
These life-changing benefits usually include partial lost wage replacement and reasonable medical bill payment.
Lost wage replacement is based on the victim’s average weekly wage (AWW) at the time of injury. There is a difference between net pay and AWW. The AWW also includes noncash compensation, like per diem, and reasonable future lost wages, such as lost promotion opportunities.
Health insurance companies usually take care of most medical expenses. Deductibles, copays, coverage limits, and other rules apply. But the DBA takes care of all of them. If the service was reasonably necessary, most injured overseas contractors never see a medical bill.
For more information about the DBA injury compensation process, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.