BND President admits misjudgment


Lerato Khumalo

The speed of Afghanistan’s collapse was also a surprise for the BND. There were also problems with coordination with other intelligence services.

The President of the Federal Intelligence Service, Bruno Kahl, has admitted misjudging the speed with which the Islamist Taliban took over the Afghan capital Kabul in 2021.

The BND has been producing a reliable situation report for the German army for years, which has often saved lives, said Kahl in the Bundestag’s Afghanistan investigation committee in Berlin. And the fact that the Taliban wanted to establish an “Emirate 2.0” was also correctly assessed. “What we did not correctly predict was the script that played out in the final few centimeters,” he admitted in connection with the Taliban’s advance.

The fact that the Taliban’s speed “has increased on the last mile has not escaped our notice,” said Kahl. This was seen, described and incorporated into the prognostic parts of the situation reports. But the crucial question at the time was: “What does this development mean for the capital Kabul?”

Here, the BND, like all other intelligence services present on the ground, assumed that the Afghan security forces would hold out longer and not surrender immediately, said Kahl. However, it turned out to be a miscalculation that Kabul would not fall on the weekend of August 14/15, 2021, the BND president admitted. Other friendly services also had no corresponding indications.

The BND had tied its predictions to conditions at the time – so-called tipping points, which had already been specified in writing before the crisis team meeting at the Foreign Office on August 13, said Kahl. It had been made clear at the time that the predictions would be invalid if these tipping points were to occur.

These included the almost complete isolation of the capital Kabul, the capture of provincial centers in the greater Kabul area, and the withdrawal of US forces and a large number of embassies. However, these events occurred immediately after the crisis meeting until August 15. This invalidated the BND’s forecast, said Kahl.

There had previously been no indication that any of the above-mentioned indicators would be realized before August 15, 2021, Kahl stressed. Neither the BND nor any other intelligence service had had such an indication.

This should have been an indication that the Americans would be withdrawing from their embassy from August 14 to 15, added the BND president. There was no indication of this – and for security reasons there shouldn’t have been, said Kahl. Because in that case the US withdrawal would have been at risk – “and there would have been a race to the airport that would have been many times more chaotic” than what was then experienced, explained the BND president.

There had been a “certain dip” in the exchange of information with friendly services before August 15, the BND president admitted – obviously also with a view to the USA. At the same time, Kahl stressed that the BND itself had “the greatest interest” in clarifying the facts and in contributing to the truth. In view of this, the BND had supported the investigation with all its might, for example by submitting a labor-intensive set of files.