As the fallout from the Biden administration’s ill-conceived and poorly executed withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan continues, President Joe Biden has repeatedly blamed the chaotic exit on the Trump administration’s February 2020 peace deal with the Taliban. That is, when he’s not criticizing the U.S.- and NATO-trained Afghan National Army.
The Associated Press explored the veracity of that claim on Thursday and found it lacking in substance.
Its fact check determined that Biden was not bound by Doha, Qatar, agreement. The deal contained an “escape hatch.”
“The U.S. could have withdrawn from the accord if Afghan peace talks failed,” the AP said. “They did, but Biden chose to stay in it, although he delayed the complete pullout from May to September.”
The Associated Press spoke to Chris Miller, who was the acting secretary of defense in the final months of the Trump administration. At the time the deal was signed, he was a top Pentagon counterterrorism official.
“If he thought the deal was bad, he could have renegotiated,” Miller said. “He had plenty of opportunity to do that if he so desired.”
However, the report said that if Biden had chosen to exercise that option, he might have been forced to send additional troops to Afghanistan, which was something he did not want to do.
At the time the deal was struck, then-President Donald Trump and other administration officials hailed it as a diplomatic breakthrough. Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said they were “seizing the best opportunity for peace in a generation.”
But they were also realistic. In defense of the Trump administration’s efforts, it must be said that they were well aware of with whom they were dealing. They were always clear that the Taliban would be monitored and “conditions on the ground” would determine the path forward.
All along, Trump warned of significant military retaliation if the Taliban reneged on their obligations.
His administration was criticized for giving legitimacy to a terrorist group, but the Taliban is such a dominant force in the country, how could it have been otherwise? The U.S. and the Afghan government could ignore them at their peril.
U.S. diplomats also made it clear that the deal signed in Doha was merely “phase one” in their plan for a peaceful transition out of Afghanistan. The next step in the negotiations would involve officials from the Afghan government.
Afghan officials, who had little faith that the Taliban would honor their part of the bargain, were unhappy with the deal.
Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad represented the U.S. in negotiations with the Taliban. According to the AP, the day before the deal was signed, one of Khalilzad’s top aides said “there is no obligation for the United States to withdraw troops if the Afghan parties are unable to reach agreement or if the Taliban show bad faith” during negotiations.
“Those negotiations were intended to begin within a month of the deal being signed but were delayed amid disputes between the Taliban and the Afghan government over prisoner releases,” the AP reported. “Amid fits and starts, the negotiations had not produced any outcome by the time Biden announced his withdrawal decision in April. Nor have they done so since.”
Biden was so determined to get out of Afghanistan that he ignored the most important words in the Doha agreement: “conditions on the ground.”
A July 30 report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction proves that the Biden administration paid no heed to “conditions on the ground.”
Contrary to the remarkable statement Wednesday from Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 11 days, it took far longer. The evidence can be found in the SIGAR report.
The report lists a timeline of key events since U.S. Central Command began its formal military drawdown on May 1.
Here are the most relevant developments listed:
June 22: “Taliban seize Sher Khan border crossing to Tajikistan.”
June 23: “General Milley says 81 district centers are under Taliban control.”
June 25: “President Biden meets with President Ghani and High Council for National Reconciliation Chairman Abdullah in Washington, DC.”
July 8: “Taliban capture Islam Qala border crossing in Herat Province, key trade route to Iran.”
July 12: “General Austin Miller relinquishes command of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and NATO Resolute Support Mission.”
July 12-15: “Four media outlets publish maps indicating Taliban control majority of Afghan districts, with many taken since May 1.”
July 14: “Taliban capture border crossing at Kandahar Province’s Spin Boldak, connecting Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
July 17: “High-level Afghan delegation meets with Taliban in Doha to expedite stalled peace talks.”
July 21: “General Milley says Taliban control more than 210 districts [out of a total of 419].”
“The news coming out of Afghanistan this quarter has been bleak,” the SIGAR report said. “The Taliban offensive that began early in the quarter accelerated in June and July. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified on June 23 that the Taliban controlled about 81 districts. Less than a month later, on July 21, he told reporters the group now controlled about half of Afghanistan’s 419 districts, or more than twice as many as before.
“According to media reporting, the Taliban also controlled large stretches of multiple major highways, and at least six international border crossings as this report went to press. The [Afghan National Defense and Security Force] has retaken some districts and the Afghan government still controls all 34 provincial capitals, including Kabul, but from public reporting, the ANDSF appeared surprised and unready, and is now on its back foot. Civilian casualties hit a record high in May and June, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.”
The report indicates the Taliban were executing a planned, systematic takeover of the country and that U.S. military leaders were well aware of it and allowed it to continue.
By June 23, 20 percent of the districts in the country were under Taliban control. Milley told Congress about it.
Exactly four weeks later, 50 percent of the districts were held by the Taliban. They had also captured at least three border crossings.
It’s highly likely the Biden administration knew long before June 23 that the takeover had begun. I would be willing to bet they were aware of it in real time.
But even giving the president and his adminstration the benefit of the doubt, they knew about it for a minimum of nearly two months rather than the 11 days Milley referred to at the Pentagon briefing.
Contrary to following “the previous administration’s plan” — the shield behind which Biden hid during his brief and stupid address on Monday even though that plan called for coordinating activity with conditions — Biden officials did nothing.
Watching in frustration as the Taliban zeroed in on Kabul on Saturday, Trump released a statement.
“He ran out of Afghanistan instead of following the plan our Administration left for him — a plan that protected our people and our property, and ensured the Taliban would never dream of taking our Embassy or providing a base for new attacks against America, “the former president said. “The withdrawal would be guided by facts on the ground.
“After I took out ISIS, I established a credible deterrent. That deterrent is now gone. The Taliban no longer has fear or respect for America, or America’s power.”
President Donald J. Trump:
"Joe Biden gets it wrong every time on foreign policy, and many other issues. Everyone knew he couldn’t handle the pressure. Even Obama’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, said as much. pic.twitter.com/eAmBVRD59I
— Liz Harrington (@realLizUSA) August 14, 2021
Simply put: Biden was not “handcuffed” by the Trump administration’s peace deal. This spectacular foreign policy failure belongs to him.