President Joe Biden‘s administration on Thursday released a summary of classified reports that mostly blamed the chaotic US pullout from Afghanistan on his predecessor, Donald Trump, for failing to plan for the withdrawal he had agreed on with the Taliban.
The Democratic administration’s summary, drawn from top-secret State Department and Pentagon after-action reviews sent to Congress, ignited angry reactions from Republican lawmakers who have demanded the documents for their own assessment of the August 2021 pullout.
US House of Representatives Oversight Committee Chair James Comer, a Republican, in a statement called the summary an “excuse for the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal.”
“President Biden’s choices for how to execute a withdrawal from Afghanistan were severely constrained by conditions created by his predecessor,” said the summary. “The outgoing administration provided no plans for how to conduct the final withdrawal or to evacuate Americans or Afghan allies.”
The withdrawal that ended America’s longest war saw tens of thousands of Afghans desperate to flee a return of hardline Taliban rule besiege Kabul’s international airport, some handing babies to US troops or breaking in and hanging onto departing aircraft.
The Trump administration also “gutted” refugee support services and virtually halted the processing of Special Immigration Visas for thousands of Afghans seeking evacuation because they worked for the US government, leaving a massive backlog, the summary said.
“Transitions matter. That’s the first lesson learned here. And the incoming administration wasn’t afforded much of one,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told a White House briefing.
The 12-page summary placed some responsibility for the chaos of the pullout and evacuation operation on flawed US intelligence and military assessments that failed to foresee the speed of the Taliban takeover and predicted that Afghan security forces would hold Kabul.
“As late as May 2021, the assessment was still that Kabul would probably not come under serious pressure until late 2021 after US troops departed,” the summary said.
Pressed on whether Biden bore any responsibility for the disorder that embroiled Kabul airport, Kirby replied, “Just by dint as the commander in chief, he assumed responsibility for the orders he gives.”
Chaotic end to twenty-year war
The 20-year war in Afghanistan, the longest conflict involving US troops, was started under President George W. Bush and furthered under President Barack Obama. Over 100,000 people were killed and about 3 million displaced as a result of the war, according to data from the nonpartisan Costs of War project at Brown University.
Biden pledged during his 2020 campaign to end the country’s “forever wars” and withdraw from Afghanistan, although he postponed the pullout to which Trump had agreed by three months until the end of August 2021. The US-backed Kabul government collapsed on Aug. 15 as the Taliban were entering the city.
The disorganization and chaos as the US left raised questions about the new president’s leadership, the quality of US intelligence and America’s commitment to human rights and thousands of Afghan citizens it had relied on during the war.
An Islamic State suicide bomber on 26 August 2021, killed 13 US service members and 170 Afghans as they clustered outside a gate of the airport.
Thousands of American citizens, greencard holders, Afghans who had applied for Special Immigration Visas were unable to leave on the largest-ever US airlift.
Altogether, some 100,000 Americans, greencard holders and Afghans – many of whom were not vetted – were flown out before the US withdrawal ended just shy of the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion.
The Trump administration agreed in a February 2020 accord with the Taliban on the pullout of all US-led international forces by May 2021. The Islamist militants agreed to stop attacking American troops and hold peace talks with the Western-backed Kabul government.
In laying out the withdrawal chronology, the summary said that successive troop reductions ordered by Trump had left 2,500 US troops in the country when Biden took office in January 2021.
“As a result… the Taliban were in the strongest military position that they had been in since 2001, controlling or contesting half the country,” the summary said.
Faced with the choice of delaying the pullout or increasing the number of US forces and facing renewed Taliban attacks, Biden chose the former and ordered planning for the withdrawal and evacuation operation, the summary said.
The document acknowledged that the administration learned lessons from the withdrawal, and now errs on the side of “aggressive communication” about risks in a destabilized security environment.
The report cited “deliberate degradation” by the Trump administration, a charge that Kirby said referred to Trump’s successive U.S. troop reductions, the release of thousands of Taliban prisoners, and the exclusion of the Kabul government from the US-Taliban talks.
Source : France24