The US government has released a review of the chaotic 2021 troop withdrawal from Afghanistan which largely lays the blame on Donald Trump, saying President Joe Biden was “severely constrained” by the decisions of his predecessor.
The White House on Thursday publicly released a 12-page summary of the results of the US policies around the ending of the nation’s longest war, taking little responsibility for its own actions. The administration said most of the after-action reviews, which were transmitted privately to Congress, were highly classified and would not be released.
“President Biden’s choices for how to execute a withdrawal from Afghanistan were severely constrained by conditions created by his predecessor,” the White House summary states, noting that when Biden entered office, “the Taliban were in the strongest military position that they had been in since 2001, controlling or contesting nearly half of the country.”
John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman, said that Biden inherited a depleted operation in Afghanistan from Trump that crippled the US response.
“Transitions matter. That’s the first lesson learned here. And the incoming administration wasn’t afforded much of one,” Kirby told reporters. Biden was left with a stark choice: withdraw all US forces or resume fighting with the Taliban.
“Clearly we didn’t get it right,” Kirby said, but he sidestepped questions about whether Biden has any regrets for his decisions and actions leading up to the withdrawal.
The report points to “deliberate degradation” by the Trump administration – an accusation that Kirby said refers to the drawdown of US troops ahead during Trump’s time in office, the release of thousands of Taliban prisoners, the negotiation of the 2020 “Doha agreement” – a deal between the US and the Taliban which did not include the Kabul government – and the virtual freezing of an Afghan visa program.
The Taliban overran Afghanistan in August 2021 as the former western-backed government in Kabul collapsed with surprising speed and the last US troops withdrew. Under Trump, the US made a deal with the Islamist Taliban to withdraw all American forces.
“America is on a stronger strategic footing more capable to support Ukraine and to meet our security commitments around the world, as well as the competition with China, because it is not fighting a ground war in Afghanistan,” Kirby said.
The report does fault overly optimistic intelligence community assessments about the Afghan army’s willingness to fight, and says Biden followed military commanders’ recommendations for the pacing of the drawdown of US forces.
The report, which was led by the National Security Council, says as a result of the Afghanistan experience, US policy has been adjusted to speed up evacuations when safety conditions are deteriorating.
The White House asserts the mistakes of Afghanistan informed its handling of Ukraine, where the Biden administration has been credited for supporting Kyiv’s defense against Russia’s invasion. The White House says it simulated worst-case scenarios prior to the February 2022 invasion and moved to release intelligence about Moscow’s intentions months beforehand.
“We now prioritize earlier evacuations when faced with a degrading security situation,” the White House said.
Republicans in Congress have sharply criticized the Afghanistan withdrawal, focusing on the deaths of 13 service members in a suicide bombing at Kabul’s airport, which also killed more than 100 Afghans.
Kirby credited US forces for their actions in running the largest airborne evacuation of noncombatants in history during the chaos of Kabul’s fall.
“They ended our nation’s longest war,” he told reporters. “That was never going to be an easy thing to do. And as the president himself has said, it was never going to be low grade or low risk or low cost.”
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