Biden Ignored Advice, Pushed Afghanistan "Unconditional Withdrawal": Former Ambassador

Tyler Durden's Photo
by Tyler Durden
Friday, Feb 16, 2024 - 10:40 PM

Authored by John Haughey via The Epoch Times,

President Joe Biden discarded advice to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan unless the Taliban complied with the Doha Agreement, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad told a House panel on Feb. 15.

“He decided not to make withdrawal of the final 2,500 [combat troops] conditional on a political agreement or leaving a counter-terrorism force behind,” Mr. Khalilzad, among the February 2020 pact’s chief negotiators, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“He thought if he stayed, he might have to go back, or likely go back, to war with the Taliban,” he said, recalling President Biden’s rejection of his and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s recommendation to make withdrawal conditional on Taliban adherence to Doha.

Mr. Khalilzad was the sole witness during the committee’s four-hour hearing, ‘Behind the Scenes: How the Biden Administration Failed to Enforce the Doha Agreement.’

The hearing was the latest installment—the first in election year 2024—in the GOP-led House’s examination of the eight months preceding the Aug. 26, 2021, evacuation from Hamid Karzai International Airport near Kabul, scarred by suicide bombings that killed more than 180 people, including 13 American service-members.

Republicans have clamored for analyses of the blundered withdrawal for two years, laying sole responsibility for the calamity on the Biden administration during a raft of 2023 committee hearings and on 2024 campaign stumps.

Democrats and Biden administration officials say the genesis of the disaster was President Donald Trump signing the Doha Agreement.

In the pact, the United States consents to deplete and then totally withdraw U.S. forces by May 2021, a draw-down they say fostered the rapid deterioration of the Afghan government and turned an orderly departure into a debacle.

According to an 85-page “After Action Report” (AAR) that analyzes the eight-month span between January and August 2021 released by the State Department on June 30, decision-makers across the last four administrations share responsibility for the 20-year war.

Mr. Khalilzad, who began his career advising President Ronald Reagan on the Soviet-Afghan war, served in President George W. Bush’s administration as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan 2004-05, to Iran 2005-07, and to the United Nations 2007-09.

President Donald Trump appointed him to serve as U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation in September 2018.

Ever the diplomat, he conceded long-term policy as well as decisions made in the eight months preceding the evacuation contributed to the chaos, including faulty trans-administration assumptions.

Among them: The Afghan government and army would resist the Taliban for at least a year.

“The bigger factor that shaped the outcome was the poor performance of the Afghan government, the disintegration of the armed forces,” Mr. Khalilzad said.

“Those were the bigger factors, in my judgment, in terms of what ultimately happened.”

U.S. Soldiers and Marines assist with security at an Evacuation Control Checkpoint during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 19, 2021. (Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla/U.S. Marine Corps via Getty Images)

Trump: ‘I Started The Process’

Mr. Khalilzad recounted that in November 2018, he was drafted by the Trump administration to negotiate the safe withdrawal of U.S. forces by obtaining commitments from the Taliban and Afghan government regarding counter-terrorism concerns.

“This represented a major shift in U.S. policy compared to when I had been the U.S. ambassador there. By the end of 2018, as is well known, the president’s decision was to bring home American forces from Afghanistan,” he said in his testimony.

There was opposition inside the U.S. and Afghan governments, but on Feb. 29, 2020, the U.S. and the Taliban signed the Doha Agreement.

Mr. Khalilzad said the deal was a framework for U.S. withdrawal, dealt with terrorism, called for continued negotiation between the Taliban and the Afghan government, and a permanent cease-fire. It outlined a 14-month withdrawal of U.S. and coalition forces.

“Importantly,” he said, “the Taliban committed not to attack U.S. forces once the agreement was signed. … The Taliban adhered to it, killing no coalition fighter or U.S soldier during the entire withdrawal period.”

Mr. Khalilzad said during the 135-day first phase, U.S. forces were reduced to 8,600.

At least three Democrats recalled President Trump publicly discussing the troop drawdowns, citing them in campaign speeches and Tweets on the social media site now called X while negotiations were underway.

President Trump announced troops were being drawn down to 4,500 during a September 2020 campaign event, they said, authorizing withdrawal to 2,500 in his waning days in office.

Several recalled his June 26, 2021, rally cry: “I started the process. All the troops are coming back home. They couldn’t stop the process. Twenty-one years is enough, don’t you think? Twenty-one years. They couldn’t stop the process.”

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) asked if those public statements hampered the Doha talks. Mr. Khalilzad said the Taliban thought Mr. Trump was impatient and U.S. negotiators were not complying with his stated goals.

“Sometimes the Taliban would say that I was not following the spirit of what was being said publicly [by the president] by saying we would only withdraw if certain conditions are met,” he recalled.

“That created the impression we would withdraw regardless.”

A commercial airplane is seen at the Hamid Karzai International Airport a day after U.S. troops' withdrawal in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 31, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

Biden: Get Out The Day You Want

After the November 2020 elections, he was asked by the Biden administration to stay on. Mr. Khalilzad said President Biden had three options.

The United States could withdraw from the Doha accord, implement the agreement “but with changes such as extension of the agreed timeline,” or withdraw forces in accordance with the agreement, he said.

Chair Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said the three options boiled down to conditionally withdraw, tear it up or enforce it.

“You and Secretary Blinken both recommended to President Biden that he enforce Doha,” he said.

“But instead, the president ignored your advice and chose to ignore the Doha conditions and unconditionally withdraw, is that correct?”

“Yes,” Mr. Khalilzad said

The former ambassador was asked repeatedly about his rejected recommendations but would not confirm or deny if President Biden turned down a suggestion to seek another extension of the withdrawal deadline.

“Avoiding the restart of the war was the most important factor shaping decisions,” Mr. Khalilzad said.

“Did the Biden administration execute or operate on a plan that there are no conditions, there’s no line, no threshold, no red line, anything, that was going to prevent them from being out of Afghanistan on the day they wanted?” Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) asked.

Getting out of Afghanistan on the day he wanted was exactly his advice to President Biden, recalled Mr. Khalilzad.

Once President Biden made it clear he was withdrawing regardless of Taliban compliance with Doha, the only question was, “‘You’re leaving when you want to leave, right?’ He chose to forget the conditions of the agreement. ‘We’re leaving when we want to leave. We’re leaving on the date that we demand to leave.’”

Zalmay Khalilzad, the then-special representative on Afghanistan reconciliation, speaks during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the U.S.-Afghanistan relationship following the military withdrawal on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 18, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

President Biden’s unconditional withdrawal “was broadly supported” within the administration, State Department, Pentagon, and among NATO allies because the priority was to get out as quickly as possible, Mr. Khalilzad said.

“There was a judgment that if we” placed conditions on the departure “it could result in a protracted delay in the withdrawal” destabilized by uncertainty in securing a Taliban-government deal, he said.

“If there was a risk of going back to war, and perhaps sending more troops, the decision was not to pursue that. And there was broad support for that decision,” Mr. Khalilzad said.

In April 2021, President Biden announced four months had been added to the withdrawal but that it would not be “conditioned on a political agreement between the two Afghan sides,” Mr. Khalilzad said.

With “our over-the-horizon capabilities,” he said the Biden administration was assured by military and intelligence officials that the conditions—and boots on the ground—weren’t necessary to safeguard American interests in Afghanistan.

“The withdrawal proceeded based on the new, extended timeline,” Mr. Khalilzad said.

“The assessment was the Afghan government would remain in power and its forces would defend it and fight the Taliban during the withdrawal and for some time afterwards.”

That proved to be spectacularly wrong.