Biden overruled top generals’ advice to keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, report says

President has remained ‘squarely’ behind decision to finalise US involvement in America’s longest war

Alex Woodward
New York
Tuesday 17 August 2021 18:33 BST
Biden Stands Behind Decision To Withdraw
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Joe Biden’s top military advisers and diplomats urged the president to maintain roughly 2,500 troops in Afghanistan while pursuing a peace agreement among warring Afghan groups, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper reports that administration officials warned the president that security in the country was deteriorating against an inadequate Afghan military and a rapidly moving Taliban, and a withdrawal of US forces would leave Afghanistan vulnerable to capture and collapse.

Mr Biden remained “committed to ending the US military role in the country” and “told his policy advisers the US was providing life support for the Afghan government, which in his view, was corrupt and had squandered billions of dollars in American assistance,” WSJ reports, citing unnamed current and former administration officials.

The president prioritised an American foreign policy agenda around “what he sees as more pressing international matters, including competition with China and domestic issues including infrastructure and battling Covid,” the newspaper reports.

In remarks on Monday, the president described recent chaos and despair among trapped civilians “gut-wrenching” while conceding that the Taliban had accelerated its takeover faster than US officials had anticipated.

But the president has committed to finalising US involvement in America’s longest war spanning more than two decades and thousands of deaths.

“I stand squarely behind my decision” to commit to withdrawing US service members, the president said, adding that the Taliban’s seizure “did unfold more quickly than we anticipated.”

“After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces,” he said. “That’s why we’re still there.”

He added that the “buck stops” with him on his administration’s plan of action, following Donald Trump’s timeline to remove US troops from the country, but he placed the blame for Afghanistan’s relatively rapid collapse on Afghan officials and its military, adding that government leaders “gave up and fled the country” while its troops gave up without “trying to fight”.

“If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending US military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision,” he said. “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”

The president also reiterated his calls to Afghan president Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, chair of the High Council for National Reconciliation, to commit to ending the nation’s wars and tackle corruption in their wake.

“They failed to do any of that,” he said.

The Independent has requested comment from the White House.

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