Biden’s disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal plan ‘severely constrained by conditions’ set by Trump, review says

The White House review blames much of the chaos of 2021 exit on Trump administration

Andrew Feinberg
Thursday 06 April 2023 22:17 BST
White House blames Trump administration for Afghanistan withdrawal chaos

Orders given by former president Donald Trump in the waning days of his administration left President Joe Biden “severely constrained” in how he handled the US withdrawal from Afghanistan after two decades of war, an interagency review of the disastrous exit has found.

The White House released the review’s conclusions in a 12-page document laying out the findings on Thursday, the day Congress was set to receive a significant number of classified documents pertaining to the withdrawal.

Speaking at the outset of Thursday’s daily White House briefing, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said it was “undeniable” that “decisions made and the lack of planning done by the previous administration” had “significantly limited options available” to Mr Biden. He also pointed specifically to an agreement Trump administration officials reached with the Taliban for the US to exit the country by May 2021.

Mr Kirby said that at the time Mr Biden had taken office, there were only 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, the lowest number since 2001 and that the Trump administration had significantly starved the Special Immigrant Visa program. He also faulted the Trump administration’s deal with the Taliban that called for the removal of US troops by May 2021, lest the Taliban go back to war against the United States.

“The President's transition team asked to see plans for that removal. They asked to see plans for a security transition to the Afghan government and they asked to see plans to increase the processing of Special Immigrant Visas. None were forthcoming,” Mr Kirby said.

He added that “transitions matter,” and despite the problems caused by Mr Trump’s refusal to cooperate during the transition period, Mr Biden “led a deliberate, rigorous and inclusive decision making process”.

Mr Kirby listed all of the actions Mr Trump took with regard to Afghanistan before Mr Biden took office.

“You got to look at when he came into office what he was walking into,” he said. “He didn’t negotiate with the Taliban. He didn’t invite the Taliban to Camp David. He didn’t release 5,000 prisoners. He didn’t reduce force levels in Afghanistan to 2,500. And he didn’t have an arrangement with the Taliban that they wouldn’t attack our troops.”

He also said Mr Biden had “directed his top national security leaders to begin planning for withdrawal even before he had made the final decision to leave Afghanistan”.

There was no explanation, however, for why the US was still painting a rosy picture about the future of Afghanistan if, as the document claims, the Biden administration knew in early 2021 that Taliban forces would be in a position to take the capital within two years.

Mr Trump responded to the comments by Mr Kirby in a Truth Social post: “These Morons in the White House, who are systematically destroying our Country, headed up by the biggest Moron of them all, Hopeless Joe Biden, have a new disinformation game they are playing - Blame “TRUMP” for their grossly incompetent SURRENDER in Afghanistan. I watched this disaster unfold just like everyone else. I saw them take out the Military FIRST, GIVE $85 Billion of military equipment, allow killing of our soldiers, and leave Americans behind. Biden is responsible, no one else!”

The actual amount of military equipment left behind in Afghanistan, most of it given to Afghan security forces who abandoned the battlefield, was just over $7bn, according to a US Defense Department report. Mr Kirby addressed that at Thursday’s briefing, remarking that it had been the responsibilty of Afghanistan’s former government to account for it.

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan entered a period of chaos in its final days as Afghan forces loyal to the US-backed government largely evaporated and major population centres fell to Taliban militants in rapid succession.

As the capital fell, US forces were forced to secure the city’s last remaining airport and oversee an evacuation of US troops and their Afghan allies — with many of the latter catergory being left behind.

The situation was further marred by an attack from Islamic State-aligned forces that killed a dozen US troops and further casualties caused by panicked Afghan civilians attempting to cling to departing aircraft leaving from an unsecured runway.

The atmosphere resulting from all of this led to heavy criticism of the Biden administration at the time, with some arguing that the US should have left troops behind and other simply insisting that the US departure was mismanaged.

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