Report Blames Afghan Collapse on Trump, Biden Decisions

US plans to withdraw damaged local forces' morale, report contends
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 18, 2022 4:40 PM CDT
Watchdog Ties Afghan Fall to Pullout by Trump, Biden
Taliban fighters stand guard in August 2021 at a checkpoint near the US Embassy in Kabul that was previously staffed by American troops.   (AP Photo, File)

(Newser) – A government watchdog says decisions by Presidents Trump and Biden to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan were the key factors in the collapse of that nation's military. The new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction mirrors assertions made by senior Pentagon and military leaders in the aftermath of the US troop withdrawal that ended last August in the chaotic evacuation of Americans and other civilians from the embattled country. Military leaders have made it clear that their recommendation was to leave about 2,500 troops there, the AP reports, but that plan was not approved.

In February 2020, the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, in which the US promised to fully withdraw its troops by May 2021. The Taliban committed to several conditions, including stopping attacks on American and coalition forces. The stated objective was to promote a peace negotiation between the Taliban and the Afghan government, but that diplomatic effort never gained traction before Biden took office in January 2022. Just a few months later, Biden announced he would complete the military withdrawal. The announcement fueled the Taliban's campaign to retake the country, aided by the Afghans' widespread distrust of their government and entrenched corruption that led to low pay, lack of food, and poor living conditions among the Afghan troops.

"Many Afghans thought the US-Taliban agreement was an act of bad faith and a signal that the US was handing over Afghanistan to the enemy as it rushed to exit the country," the interim report said. "Its immediate effect was a dramatic loss in (Afghan troops') morale." At a congressional hearing last week, senators questioned whether there is a need to change how intelligence agencies assess a foreign military's will to fight. Lawmakers pointed to two examples: US intelligence believed that the Kabul government would hold on for months against the Taliban, and more recently believed that Ukraine's forces would quickly fall to Russia's invasion. Both were wrong.

(Read more Afghanistan exit strategy stories.)

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