As recriminations fly among Biden administration officials over who bungled the Afghanistan withdrawal, some are questioning the responsibility of Russell Travers, who was fired by the Trump administration as acting head of the National Counterterrorism Center and subsequently rehired by President Joe Biden to lead the interagency process on the evacuation operation.
In March 2020, then-Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell fired Travers as acting head of the NCTC as part of the Trump administration’s efforts to streamline a bloated agency and remove ineffective individuals.
At the time, the move was decried by anonymous former officials as a “purge” of career professionals, as the Washington Post reported. “The removals have shocked Travers’s colleagues, who are upset at the treatment of someone so well-regarded, according to the two former officials,” the Post reported.
Travers would later in October 2020 sign a letter declaring the belief that the disclosure of emails found on Hunter Biden’s laptop “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”
In January, Biden rehired Travers as deputy homeland security adviser at the National Security Council to go after domestic extremists.
In June, Biden promoted Travers to senior deputy homeland security adviser at the NSC and put him in charge of evacuating Afghan special immigrant visa (SIV) applicants to the U.S., according to Politico.
Travers had boasted about how well the evacuation plan was going on July 29, 2021, on a conference call with reporters:
I am immensely proud to announce our first group of Afghan special immigrants to be relocated under Operation Allies Refuge is now on their way to America. This flight represents a fulfillment of the U.S. commitment and honors these Afghans’ brave service in helping support our mission in Afghanistan, in turn helping to keep our country safe.
The plan to evacuate Afghan SIV applicants is now in disarray, and there are estimates of as many as 65,000 or more Afghans scrambling to get out of Afghanistan and come to the U.S. or another yet to be determined location.
Thousands of Afghans had rushed to the Hamid Karzai International Airport last weekend as the Taliban closed in on the capital after the Biden administration failed to predict the speed of the collapse of the U.S.-backed Afghan government and military.
Hundreds were seen flooding the airport’s tarmac and disrupting evacuation operations, with some Afghans trying to cling to an Air Force C-17 in an attempt to evacuate, plunging to their deaths with others being trampled on the runway.
There have also been scenes of desperate Afghan parents passing their infants over the airport’s perimeter to U.S. service members. On Sunday, there were reports of a two-year-old Afghan girl being trampled to death. Even Biden administration officials have admitted the scenes are “heartbreaking.”
In addition, the thousands of Afghans crowding around the airport’s perimeter have made it difficult for Americans trapped in Afghanistan to flee. The Pentagon said Saturday that 17,000 have been evacuated from Kabul since August 14, and 2,500 of those are Americans.
The Biden administration had originally committed to bringing Afghans who helped the U.S. military to safety but have reportedly expanded those efforts to other Afghans looking to escape.
The evacuation efforts have gone so badly that Americans and other nations’ citizens have set up their own private efforts to evacuate their citizens and Afghans who have helped them.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Sunday told Afghans who are part of those private efforts, “Please do not come to the airport unless you have received specific instructions to travel” there.
This chaotic outcome was despite bipartisan pressure on Biden since mid-July to do more to ensure that the tens of thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. would not be targeted by the Taliban, according to Bloomberg.
Former Trump administration officials are not surprised the current evacuation efforts are not going well, given that Travers was put in charge.
“Privately, men and women that I served with have been doing more to get SIVs out of the country than Russ Travers and the White House. They have been chartering flights, they have been putting together programs, contacting allies, and then when they try to get people out of country, they’re told by the U.S. government that ‘you’re not allowed,’ so it’s just tragic all around,” said Kash Patel, a former Grenell deputy at DNI and former Pentagon chief of staff.
“The SIV programs falls squarely on Russ Travers, but ultimately the White House. They gave it to him to do, and either him or they or both didn’t do anything,” Patel added.
Reached by Breitbart News, Grenell said about Travers, “I replaced him as head of the Counterterrorism Center and I put in a career official who was eager to reform the place.”