As the US draws down its presence in Afghanistan, Taliban militants have recaptured a third of the country, and the former US ambassador says Donald Trump bears a large share of the blame.
“We bear a major responsibility for this,” Ryan Crocker, former US ambassador to Afghanistan, told CNN on Thursday. “It began under President Trump when he authorised negotiations between the US and the Taliban without the Afghan government in the room. That was a key Taliban demand, and we acceded to it, and it was a huge demoralizing factor for the Afghan government and its security focus.”
The dire assessment comes as the militant force has taken back large portions of the country. The Taliban controlled 12 of the country’s 34 provincial capitals as of Friday, as well as Kandahar, the second largest city in the country.
In 2019, as part of peace negotiations with the Taliban that didn’t include the Afghan government, the US agreed to release large numbers of Taliban prisoners if the group stopped attacking US forces. In February of the following year, the Trump administration announced a fuller peace deal, which traded a US withdrawal by May 2021 for the group agreeing not to harbour extremist groups like Al Qaeda. The Biden administration reviewed the deal, and pushed back the removal date of US troops to September.
“Like any complex phenomenon, there are a number of reasons for the collapse of the Afghan forces, but we cannot ignore that we had a central role in delegitimising them and their government,” the former ambassador said, adding, “It is very sad to hear that our envoys to Taliban are now pleading with them not to shoot at us as we retreat, when you think how this started, a peace agreement we would somehow broker. Well, welcome to reality.”
On Thursday, as Taliban forces continued their advance, the US State Department announced it was pulling its staff from the US embassy in Kabul for safety reasons, and the Pentagon is sending an extra 3,000 troops to bolster the 650 left in the city as officials make their evacuation.
The former president distanced himself from any blame for the situation, even though the Trump administration set in motion the US withdrawal.
“I personally had discussions with top Taliban leaders whereby they understood what they are doing now would not have been acceptable,” Mr Trump said in a statement this week. “It would have been a much different and much more successful withdrawal, and the Taliban understood that better than anyone.”
The US has occupied Afghanistan since 2001, pouring trillions of dollars into bolstering the Afghan state and security forces, to little avail. More than 2,400 Americans have died during the war, as well as an estimated 100,000 Afghan civilians who have been injured or killed.
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