“Mailbox full”; DoD rebuffs attempts for transparency in wake of scathing report

March 18, 2022

Washington, DC – Today, the Center to Advance Security in America (CASA) Director Adam Turner criticized the federal government for its failure to provide transparency around the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. As recent reports reveal as many as 9,000 American citizens may have been left behind at the mercy of the Taliban, the government may be deliberately misleading the American people and avoiding attempts to obtain records regarding the chaotic departure.

This past month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFR) issued a report critical of the federal government’s actions in Afghanistan.  According to the report, between 4,000 to 9,000 American citizens were left behind in Afghanistan on August 31, 2021, and the federal government has evacuated at least an additional 479 American citizens.  This stands in stark contrast to statements such as President Joe Biden’s “100 to 200 Americans” and Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s, “approximately 100-150.”

Earlier this year, CASA submitted Freedom of Information Act requests with the Department of Defense (DoD) and other agencies seeking information on a variety of aspects of the pullout. Not only has DoD provided no responses to the requests but recent attempts to obtain information about the status of the requests have resulted in emails being kicked back with “Mailbox full” messages – not exactly in keeping with the Attorney General’s declaration, “Transparency in government operations is a priority of this Administration,” as he declared in the FOIA guidelines released Tuesday. Could leadership at the Department Americans look to stand and protect them be running from the answers to difficult questions?

The report documents that the failure to evacuate these citizens was because of general incompetence on the part of the federal government.  For example, officials were still formulating a withdrawal plan a day before Kabul fell to the Taliban, despite the fact that President Biden had announced the withdrawal from Afghanistan four months before Kabul fell.  Also, there was a failure of coordination between the State Department and the Defense Department.  And the Transportation Department waited five days to issue an order allowing foreign airlines to deliver evacuees to U.S. airports, and seven days to activate the Civil Reserve Aircraft Fleet, which is a private fleet that can aid the U.S. military in a crisis, but “was barely used and did little to impact evacuation operations.”

“The Center to Advance Security in America (CASA) was created to educate the American people about government actions that impact their safety,” Director Adam Turner said.  “The U.S. government’s incompetent withdrawal from Afghanistan in August of 2021 was an action that clearly impacts the safety of the American public.  It is disgraceful that our most powerful officials did not level with the American people from the very beginning regarding the catastrophic withdrawal. The ‘Mailbox full’ responses to attempts to obtain the vital information around this catastrophe exemplifies the incompetence that led to it.”