The Biden administration has released a report stating that the messy exit from Kabul was the result of the previous White House’s lack of planning, following the withdrawal plan agreed upon by Trump and the Taliban.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden’s administration published a summary of classified reports, mainly blaming his predecessor, Donald Trump, for the US’s chaotic departure from Afghanistan for failing to plan for the withdrawal that he had agreed to with the Taliban.
The summary, based on top-secret State Department and Pentagon after-action reviews submitted to Congress, sparked outrage from Republican lawmakers who demanded access to the documents to evaluate the August 2021 exit.
James Comer, a Republican and Chair of the House Oversight Committee, referred to the summary as an “excuse for the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal.”
“The choices made by President Biden on how to execute the withdrawal from Afghanistan were severely limited due to the conditions created by his predecessor,” the summary stated. “The outgoing administration did not provide any plans to carry out the final withdrawal or evacuate US citizens or Afghan allies.”
As a result of America’s longest war ending, tens of thousands of Afghans, desperate to escape the Taliban’s return to hardline rule, besieged Kabul’s international airport. Some courageous people handed babies over to US troops, while others forcefully entered aircraft as they left the country.
The Trump administration also “gutted” refugee support services and brought the processing of Special Immigration Visas for thousands of Afghans who worked for the US government to a virtual halt, resulting in an enormous backlog, according to the summary.
“Transitions matter. That’s the first lesson learned here. And the incoming administration wasn’t afforded much of one,” remarked National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby during a White House briefing.
The 12-page summary put some responsibility for the pullout chaos and evacuation operation on flawed US intelligence and military assessments, which failed to foresee the Taliban’s speed in seizing power and anticipated that Afghan security forces would hold onto 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 stated.
Asked if Biden could be held accountable for the chaos that engulfed Kabul airport, Kirby responded that “by force of being the commander in chief, he assumed responsibility for his orders.”
The 20-year war in Afghanistan, which saw the longest engagement of US troops, was begun under President George W. Bush and continued under President Barack Obama. The war resulted in over 100,000 deaths and the displacement of approximately three million people, according to data from Brown University’s non-partisan Costs of War project.
Biden campaigned to end the United States’ “forever wars” and withdraw from Afghanistan, although he postponed the pullout agreed to by Trump by three months until the end of August 2021. The US-backed Kabul government fell on August 15 when the Taliban entered the city.
The US’s disarray and confusion as they departed raised concerns about the new president’s leadership, the quality of US intelligence, and America’s commitment to human rights and the thousands of Afghan citizens they relied upon throughout the war.
An Islamic State suicide bomber killed 13 US service members and 170 Afghans on August 26, 2021, as they massed outside an airport gate.
Despite the biggest US airlift ever, thousands of American citizens, green card holders, and Afghans who had applied for Special Immigration Visas were unable to leave.
In total, around 100,000 Americans, green card holders, and Afghans, many of whom were not vetted, were flown out before the US withdrawal ended just before the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion.
The Trump administration agreed in a February 2020 accord with the Taliban to withdraw 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.
The summary laid out the chronology of the withdrawal, reporting that successive troop reductions ordered by Trump resulted in 2,500 US troops remaining in the country when Biden took office in January 2021.
The summary said, “As a result… the Taliban were in the strongest military position that they had been in since 2001, controlling or contesting half the country.”
Biden had to make a choice between delaying the pullout or increasing the number of US forces and facing renewed Taliban attacks. He chose the former and ordered the withdrawal and evacuation planning, according to the summary.
The document acknowledged that the administration had learned from the withdrawal but now tends “to be more aggressively communicative” about the risks in an unstable security environment.
The report also cited “deliberate degradation” by the Trump administration. Kirby clarified that this referred to Trump’s successive US troop reductions, the release of thousands of Taliban prisoners, and the exclusion of the Kabul government from the US-Taliban talks.