Washington, DC – US President Joe Biden’s administration has defended its decision to pull American troops out of Afghanistan, but said the 2021 withdrawal highlighted that Washington must better prepare for “high-risk scenarios” in the future.
In a summary report on Thursday, United States government agencies involved in the pullout blamed former President Donald Trump’s administration for issues that led to the chaotic US exit from the country.
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“President Biden’s choices for how to execute a withdrawal from Afghanistan were severely constrained by conditions created by his predecessor,” it read.
The Trump administration had negotiated a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban that Biden pledged to honour. But Thursday’s review criticised the former Republican president for a lack of planning to carry out the deal.
“During the transition from the Trump administration to the Biden administration, the outgoing administration provided no plans for how to conduct the final withdrawal or to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies,” the report said.
“Indeed, there were no such plans in place when President Biden came into office, even with the agreed upon full withdrawal just over three months away.”
The internationally backed Afghan government collapsed and then-President Ashraf Ghani fled the country in August 2021 as the Taliban took over the capital, Kabul, amid the withdrawal of US forces.
American troops – confined to the area around the city’s airport until their final withdrawal at the end of that month – oversaw a massive, two-week operation to get desperate Afghans out.
During the evacuation, a suicide bombing by the Afghanistan branch of ISIL (ISIS) killed at least 175 people, including 13 US service members.
While Thursday’s report did not explicitly acknowledge mistakes by the Biden administration during the withdrawal, it said the US learned to prepare early for evacuations and worst-case scenarios.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that the US government could not have predicted that Afghan forces would “fail to fight for the country” after 20 years of American support.
“Another lesson learned was the need to plan early and extensively for the low-probability, high-risk scenarios,” Kirby said during a news conference.
Similarly, the report said the US now prioritises “earlier evacuations when faced with a degrading security situation”.
Kirby also slammed the Trump administration for negotiating a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban that he said excluded the Afghan government.
He said Trump “negotiated the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners that were being held by the Ghani government without consultation with the Ghani government”.
Trump rejected the findings of the report on Thursday. “I watched this disaster unfold just like everyone else,” he said on his Truth Social platform. “Biden is responsible, no one else!”
Despite criticism of the Trump administration, which initiated the American withdrawal after 20 years in Afghanistan, the report said Biden – who took office in January 2021 – also wanted to end the longest war in US history.
“Two decades after the war had started, America had become bogged down in a war in Afghanistan with unclear objectives and no end in sight and was underinvesting in today’s and tomorrow’s national security challenges,” it read.
The US and a coalition of its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda in New York and Washington, DC. At that time, the Taliban, which was in control of the country, hosted al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden.
Although US-led troops were able to quickly remove the Taliban from power, they never managed to ensure a lasting defeat of the group or wrest full control over the mountainous country.
The Biden administration has faced mounting criticism, especially from Republicans, over the withdrawal.
But Kirby said on Thursday that the US was “proud” of taking control of the airport in Kabul in August 2021 and evacuating about 100,000 Afghan allies.
“Nobody’s saying that everything was perfect. But there was a lot that went right,” he said.
“And a lot of Afghans are now living better lives – in this country and other countries around the world – because of the sacrifices and the work of so many American government officials.”
The report called on Congress to pass a law that would give Afghan evacuees a path to permanent residency in the US, a step that it said would “support those joining new communities to become well settled and integrated”.
Most evacuees came to the US on what is known as humanitarian parole, a programme that allowed them to enter the country and get a temporary work permit, but did not provide a long-term, regular immigration status.
Republicans were quick to slam Thursday’s review, calling it a push to shift responsibility for the Afghanistan exit from Biden to Trump.
“This Administration’s decision to blame President Trump for their botched withdrawal in Afghanistan is a slap in the face to every service-member that was involved,” Congressman Mark Alford wrote on Twitter.
“Their refusal to hold themselves accountable is absolutely unacceptable.”
Congresswoman Jen Kiggans said she was “extremely disappointed” by the assessment.
“Joe Biden was the Commander in Chief during the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal and his poor decisions cost the lives of 13 US service members,” she said in a social media post.