Biden admin defends Afghan troop pullout, blames ex-Prez Trump for chaos


Washington: Joe Biden’s administration has defended its decision to pull American troops out of Afghanistan and blamed former US President Donald Trump for the chaotic withdrawal from the war-torn country.

The White House on Thursday released a 12-page document on the conditions that led to US’ exit from Afghanistan in 2021 and sent related classified documents to various Congressional committees.

The report places much of the blame on the previous Trump administration, saying President Biden was “severely constrained” by former president Trump’s decisions.

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The Trump administration had negotiated a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban that Biden pledged to honour. But Thursday’s report criticised the former Republican president for a lack of planning to carry out the deal.

According to the report, when Biden took office on January 20, 2021, “the Taliban were in the strongest military position that they had been in since 2001, controlling or contesting nearly half of the country.”

At the same time, the US had only 2,500 troops on the ground, the lowest since 2001, and President Biden was facing Trump’s near-term deadline to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan by May 2021, or the Taliban would resume its attacks on US and allied troops, it said.

It said Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testified on September 28, 2021, “The intelligence was clear that if we did not leave in accordance with that agreement, the Taliban would recommence attacks on our forces.”

John Kirby, White House National Security Coordinator for Strategic Communications, told reporters here that the Biden administration was “proud” of its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“The president’s very proud of the manner in which the men and women of the military, the Foreign Service, and the intelligence community conducted this withdrawal,” he said.

“I’ve been around operations my entire life, and there’s not a single one that ever goes perfectly according to plan,” he said.

Kirby said Biden’s choice was stark, either to withdraw all US forces or resume fighting with the Taliban.

“He chose the former, but even in doing so, secured extra time to conduct that withdrawal, stretching it out to August. Despite having his options curtailed, President Biden led a deliberate, rigorous and inclusive decision-making process that was responsive to facts on the ground,” he said.

Noting that the administration focused keenly on the need for proper planning, he said Biden directed his top national security leaders to begin planning for a withdrawal even before he had made the final decision to leave Afghanistan.

He ordered troop reduction plans, plans to turn over bases and equipment to the Afghan government as the previous administration had negotiated, plans to draw down the diplomatic presence and plans to evacuate both American citizens and Afghan allies alike, Kirby said.

The White House official said the evacuation planning started in the spring of 2021 and the president ordered additional military forces pre-positioned in the region by mid-summer in case they were ever needed.

Throughout, President Biden insisted that his team plan for worst-case scenarios such as the fall of Kabul, even though the intelligence community’s assessment when he was making the decision in early 2021, was that Taliban advances would accelerate only after the withdrawal of US forces, Kirby said.

The president repeatedly requested assessments of the trajectory of the conflict from his military and his intelligence professionals, he said.

The long-awaited report also cites intelligence failure in not predicting rapid Taliban victory.

Responding to a question on inaccurate intelligence assessment, Kirby said no agency predicted a Taliban takeover in nine days.

“No agency predicted the rapid fleeing of President Ghani who had indicated to us his intent to remain in Afghanistan up until he departed on the 15th of August,” he said.

The internationally backed Afghan government collapsed and then-President Ashraf Ghani fled the country in August 2021 as the Taliban took over the capital, Kabul, amid the withdrawal of US forces.

During the evacuation, a suicide bombing by the Afghanistan branch of ISIS killed at least 175 people, including 13 US service members.

“No agency predicted that the more than 300,000 trained and equipped Afghan National Security and Defense Forces would fail to fight for the country, especially after 20 years of American support,” Kirby said.

The mission that was originally sent into Afghanistan was accomplished a long, long time ago, he said.

“Remember, they were ordered under President Bush to avenge the 9/11 attacks and to go specifically after Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. And decimating and degrading al-Qaida’s capability in Afghanistan was a mission that we accomplished a long, long time ago,” he said.

“Over time, the president has talked about this, the mission in Afghanistan morphed into something it wasn’t intended to originally be,” Kirby said.

The Biden administration has faced mounting criticism, especially from Republicans, over its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

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( With inputs from )

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