(CNSNews.com) – Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday President Biden’s decision to ditch his predecessor’s “conditions-based” plan on withdrawing from Afghanistan had led to the “collapse” in the summer of 2021.
“The Afghanistan collapse happened under Biden’s watch because he rejected our conditions-based approach,” he tweeted. “Instead of taking responsibility, he’s trying to pass the buck with a dishonest report.”
Pompeo was reacting to the publication of a 12-page National Security Council document outlining the Biden’s decision-making on the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
Both the document, and remarks during a White House briefing by NSC coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby, directed significant blame at the Trump administration.
“President Biden’s choices for how to execute a withdrawal from Afghanistan were severely constrained by conditions created by his predecessor,” it said.
At the briefing, Kirby said Biden came into office “with a certain set of circumstances he had no ability to change. He had to deal with it based on what he inherited.”
The document faulted the Trump administration, among many other things, for striking an accord with the Taliban in February 2020 that included an agreement to withdraw all troops by May 2021, and for reducing U.S. troop numbers by the time it left office to 2,500, their lowest-ever level since the war began in 2001.
The Feb. 2020 accord known as the Doha agreement made the withdrawal of U.S. forces by May 1 of the following year contingent on the Taliban meeting certain obligations.
The timeline for the withdrawal was declared in the text to be “interconnected” and “interrelated” to a Taliban commitment to “prevent the use of the soil of Afghanistan by any group or individual against the security of the United States and its allies.”
The agreement also called for a “permanent and comprehensive ceasefire,” to be negotiated and agreed upon in “intra-Afghan” talks, a commitment that that was not honored.
Some annexes to the agreement were classified, although shortly after the signing in Doha, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “the Taliban have signed up to a whole series of conditions,” include pledges not to carry out attacks in the country’s 34 provincial capitals or Kabul, attacks against U.S. or coalition forces, or suicide bombing attacks.
“I do not trust the Taliban,” then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor two days after the signing. “So I’m grateful the lynchpin of the agreement is a conditions-based approach that will provide our commanders with leverage to test the will and the capacity of the Taliban to abide by the agreement.”
Kirby said Biden had “no ability to change” the circumstances he inherited from his predecessor. Biden did, however, make some changes in 2021, moving back the target date for the withdrawal from May to September 11, the highly-symbolic 20th anniversary of the al-Qaeda terrorist attack that triggered the invasion of Afghanistan in the first place.
When he announced that decision on April 14, Biden also made clear that he was abandoning his predecessor’s “conditions-based” formula.
“If we instead pursue the approach where America – U.S. exit is tied to conditions on the ground, we have to have clear answers to the following questions: Just what conditions require to – be required to allow us to depart?” he said.
“By what means and how long would it take to achieve them, if they could be achieved at all? And at what additional cost in lives and treasure?”
“I’m not hearing any good answers to these questions,” Biden said. “And if you can’t answer them, in my view, we should not stay.”
In a background briefing that day, a senior administration official made the point with greater clarity.
“This is not conditions-based,” the official said. “The president has judged that a conditions-based approach, which has been the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever.”
As the drawdown proceeded the Taliban stepped up its offensives beginning May 4 and within a month fighting was underway in 26 of the 34 provinces. Provincial capitals began falling precipitously in early August, culminating in the flight of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the fall of Kabul on the 15th.
The Pentagon then deployed troops back into the country to oversee a fortnight-long evacuation mission from Kabul airport, an episode that saw more than 124,000 people flown out of the country as well as a terrorist attack that cost the lives of 13 U.S. service personnel and more than 160 Afghan civilians. The mission ended on August 30.
The administration’s 12-page document does not refer directly to Biden’s decision, as presented in the April 14 announcement, to drop the “conditions-based” approach.
It does say that when Biden sought guidance from intelligence professionals on the feasibility of keeping the 2,500 troops in Afghanistan and defending them from Taliban attacks, the assessment they provided “was that the United States would need to send more American troops into harm’s way to ensure our troops could defend themselves and to stop the stalemate from getting worse.”
The document quoted Defense Secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin as testifying later in the year – after the August evacuation mission from Kabul airport – that “the intelligence was clear that if we did not leave in accordance with that agreement, the Taliban would recommence attacks on our forces.”
Alongside the document released on Thursday, the State Department and Defense Department provided congressional committees with confidential after-action reviews on their respective implementation of the Afghanistan withdrawal.
Meanwhile House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) is still trying to get the State Department to hand over a “Dissent Channel” cable reportedly sent by 23 department officials in Kabul in mid-July of 2021, and the department’s response to it.
He recently served a subpoena to compel the department to provide an unredacted copy of the cable and response.
Like Pompeo, McCaul slammed the administration on Thursday.
“John Kirby’s comments during today’s White House press briefing were disgraceful and insulting,” he said. “President Biden made the decision to withdraw and even picked the exact date; he is responsible for the massive failures in planning and execution.”
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