White House names Afghan exit debacle culprit
Over a year and a half since the end of America’s longest-ever war, President Joe Biden’s administration has attributed the chaos and deadly violence that arose during the US withdrawal from Afghanistan to former President Donald Trump.
“President Biden’s choices for how to execute a withdrawal from Afghanistan were severely constrained by conditions created by his predecessor,” the White House said in a 12-page report released on Wednesday. Biden inherited the smallest US troop presence in Afghanistan since 2001, as well as an agreement by Trump to withdraw all of those forces by May 2021. The previous administration provided no plans for conducting the exit, the report said.
The report essentially acknowledged no mistakes by the administration, although one “lesson learned” was to prioritize earlier evacuations when faced with a “degrading security situation.” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that those lessons had already been applied in Ukraine and Ethiopia, adding that such decisions are difficult because the administration must strike the right balance between getting its people out quickly enough and trying to avoid undermining the host government.
Kirby declined to acknowledge any regrets by Biden about his own decisions, saying the president would have started the evacuation sooner if military and intelligence agency assessments had been more prescient.
“No agency predicted a Taliban takeover in nine days,” he said. “No agency predicted the rapid fleeing of President [Ashraf] Ghani ... And no agency predicted that the more than 300,000 trained and equipped Afghan national security and defense forces would fail to fight for their country, especially after 20 years of American support.”
The report noted that Biden trusted the judgment of US military commanders on the ground to prioritize protection of their troops. Senior officers assured the president that they had sufficient resources to mitigate threats, including possible attacks by the ISIS-K terrorist group. An ISIS-K bombing on August 26 at the Kabul airport killed 13 US service members and 170 Afghans.
Three days later, a US drone strike killed ten Afghan civilians, including seven children, after American forces mistakenly identified an aid worker as a potential ISIS-K bomber. The White House report made no mention of the fact that military leaders concealed what they knew about the errant strike for days.
Asked by a reporter who will be fired as a result of the blunders in Afghanistan, Kirby said, “This document and this effort isn’t about accountability today, it’s about understanding.” He added, “Nobody’s saying that everything was perfect, but there’s a lot that went right,” including the evacuation of 124,000 people and the settling of 100,000 Afghan allies in the US.