Republicans furious at Biden’s Afghanistan review, Democrats mum

A review released by the White House largely blamed former President Trump for chaotic US pullout from Afghanistan.

People walk up a ramp to enter a military plane
Afghan passengers board an Air Force plane in Kabul as the US withdraws from Afghanistan in August 2021 [File: MSgt Donald R Allen, US Air Force/AP]

Washington, DC – Republicans have expressed outrage after the administration of President Joe Biden largely blamed his predecessor Donald Trump for the shortcomings of the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan.

A summary report released by the White House on Thursday justified how the current administration carried out the chaotic US exit from Afghanistan in 2021. It said Biden’s “choices for how to execute a withdrawal from Afghanistan were severely constrained by conditions created” by Trump.

That assessment sparked a rebuke from Republicans in Congress, who accused the Biden administration of absolving itself of responsibility by pointing the finger at the former president.

Key Democrats in Congress have stayed mostly mum about the review.

Congressman William Timmons called the report a “partisan absurdity”, invoking an ISIL (ISIS) attack on an evacuation operation in Kabul during the US withdrawal that killed at least 175 people, including 13 American service members, in 2021.

“Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan directly resulted in the loss of 13 US service members, the deaths of thousands of Afghans, and billions of dollars of US military equipment left in the hands of the Taliban,” Timmons, a South Carolina Republican, wrote on Twitter.

The internationally backed Afghan government collapsed in August 2021, as the Taliban took over the capital, Kabul, without major fighting amid the pullout 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.

On Thursday, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said the US government was “proud” of being able to secure the airport and helping more than 100,000 Afghan allies leave the country.

“Nobody’s saying that everything was perfect. But there was a lot that went right,” he told reporters.

Kirby said no US agency had predicted that the government in Kabul would fall so quickly and 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.

Michael McCaul, the Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called Kirby’s remarks “disgraceful and insulting”.

“President Biden made the decision to withdraw and even picked the exact date; he is responsible for the massive failures in planning and execution,” McCaul said in a statement.

The Trump administration had negotiated a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban in 2020 that Biden pushed to honour.

But the review slammed the former Republican president for a lack of planning to carry out the deal. It also accused Trump of failing to meaningfully involve the government of then-Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in talks with the Taliban.

Ghani eventually fled the country when the Taliban fighters took over Kabul in 2021.

“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 US report said on Thursday.

Ultimately, the Biden administration defended the withdrawal on Thursday, saying that the US had become bogged down in a war with “unclear objectives and no end in sight”.

Trump appeared livid with the review’s findings, calling White House officials and Biden “morons” and accusing them of spreading “disinformation” to blame him for the withdrawal.

“I watched this disaster unfold just like everyone else,” he said on his Truth Social website. “Biden is responsible, no one else!”

The report came as Trump — who is seeking the White House again in 2024 — returned to the headlines, facing charges in New York over hush-money payments made in the lead-up to the 2016 elections.

Public opinion polls show that most Americans supported pulling US troops from Afghanistan but also disagreed with the way the withdrawal was handled.

On Thursday, Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, questioned the timing of the report’s release, in advance of Good Friday and Easter weekend, describing it as a “clear attempt to bury the news”.

Risch said the Afghanistan withdrawal emboldened Washington’s adversaries, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping.

“Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, our Middle East partners’ outreach to Beijing, and Xi’s increased threats to Taiwan are all connected to and arise from this debacle,” the senator said in a statement.

For his part, Mike Rogers, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, called the Biden administration’s assessment a “spineless piece of fiction”.

“President Biden conducted this withdrawal, and President Biden needs to accept responsibility for the tragedy that occurred,” Rogers said in a statement.

Source: Al Jazeera