White House takes little responsibility for chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal

Summary of review says Joe Biden inherited problems left by Donald Trump's administration

US Marines at Abbey Gate before a suicide bomber struck outside Kabul International Airport on August 26, 2021. Department of Defence via AP
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The White House defended US President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan in August 2021, blaming the chaotic final days on former president Donald Trump's administration.

The 12-page report, released on Thursday, said the decision was "severely constrained by the conditions" left by Mr Trump's administration and said the Taliban were in the strongest military position since 2001 when Mr Biden assumed office.

“While it was always the President's intent to end that war, it is also undeniable that decisions made and the lack of planning done by the previous administration significantly limited options available to him,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

The final weeks in the country were marked with harrowing scenes of Afghan citizens rushing on to the tarmac at the Kabul airport to flee the country, and the bombing at Abbey Gate by ISIS-K that resulted in the death of 13 American troops and more than 100 Afghan civilians.

Then-president Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan on August 15. The Taliban returned to power hours later.

Mr Kirby praised American soldiers who helped non-combatants to evacuate.

“They ended our nation's longest war. That was never going to be an easy thing to do,” he said.

The report does say that optimistic intelligence reports failed to predict the speed at which the Taliban would take over.

“No agency predicted a Taliban takeover in nine days; no agency predicted the rapid fleeing of President Ghani,” Mr Kirby said.

But the White House ultimately laid blame on Mr Trump and his administration.

The White House has repeatedly blamed him for striking an agreement with the Taliban in 2020 that caused a dramatic reduction in US military presence in Afghanistan.

Mr Kirby said the deal “had a very corrosive” effect on the Afghan military's morale.

The agreement required the US to remove its forces by May 2021, but Mr Biden pushed to extend the deadline to the end of August that year.

Mr Kirby declined to say what blame Mr Biden may have for the chaotic withdrawal but said the administration “clearly” did not get things right.

He said the report was an addition to the review process and not about accountability.

“What I can tell you is that, again, we've done a good-faith effort here to work through the lessons learnt of this withdrawal,” Mr Kirby said.

The National Security Council said some of those lessons included quicker evacuation processes when safety conditions deteriorate, pointing to recent responses in Ukraine and Ethiopia.

The White House said worst-case-scenario planning on Ukraine allowed the administration to quickly disseminate intelligence of Russia's planned invasion long before it began.

It added that most of its review, which is classified, was delivered to Congress on Thursday.

Updated: April 07, 2023, 7:24 AM