Biden’s Disastrous Afghanistan Withdrawal: One Year Later

On the one-year anniversary of Kabul’s fall to the Taliban, it is important to re-examine President Biden’s decision-making process during the rapid drawdown of U.S. forces, as it represents one of the strongest examples of Biden’s tendency for unilateral action. In what became likely the most egregious foreign policy disaster since President Carter’s failed rescue attempt during the Iran hostage crisis, Biden’s actions in Afghanistan went against the advice and wishes of congressional leaders, military and intelligence experts, and even some of his closest advisors and cabinet officials.

Biden acted alone, and both Afghanistan and the United States suffered for it. Biden managed to personally hand Afghanistan to the Taliban on a silver platter; subject the Afghan populace to a life of misery and abject poverty; cause tremendous damage to the strategic interests of the United States and our international reputation; ultimately cause 13 U.S. soldiers to lose their lives; and harm our nation’s national security by allowing Afghanistan to once again become a breeding ground for terrorists -- which has been clearly evident, considering al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was residing in Kabul when he was recently killed by a U.S. drone strike.

Biden has exhibited such tendencies towards independent action on the domestic front as well. When one considers he will likely lean more heavily into such action if the GOP gains control of Congress after the mid-terms, our current president’s predilection towards taking matters into his own hands is tremendously worrisome.

It is true that President Trump was responsible for setting the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in motion. Under Trump, the State Department signed the ill-fated Doha Agreement with the Taliban, which included the removal of U.S. military forces by May 1, 2021 and the release of 5,000 Taliban fighters from detention. In a clear illustration of why the U.S. government should never negotiate with terrorists, the Taliban reneged on the deal, attacking Afghan forces multiple times shortly after the agreement was signed. Yet, this was ignored, and the withdrawal continued. When Biden entered the Oval Office in January 2021, all that remained of the American military presence was a skeleton crew of 2,500 military personnel operating primarily out of Bagram Air Force Base. 

This skeleton crew was perfectly capable of holding Afghanistan together and the Taliban at bay, by providing close air support for the Afghan military and instilling them with confidence, while launching special operations against terrorist enclaves. As Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) remarked on the day of Kabul’s fall on August 15, “America’s options were never simply this disgraceful withdrawal or an endless occupation force of 100,000 troops (we haven’t had that in Afghanistan in a decade). America’s leaders didn’t tell the truth that our small, forward-deployed force of a few thousand was the backbone of intelligence and special forces’ successful work to decapitate terror organizations… America will regret this.”

This force was the thin red line preventing a Taliban takeover. However, Biden inexplicably decided to evacuate them anyway, against the advice and warnings from a cacophony of voices on all sides of the political spectrum.

In January 2021, Department of Defense Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko reported that the Afghan air force would collapse without American support. This was ignored.

In April, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) reported the Taliban and al-Qaeda maintained substantial ties, and that “the Taliban’s strategy will likely focus on overrunning key provincial capitals to set the stage for a military takeover of Kabul.” This was also ignored.

In early July, General Austin Miller -- the U.S. military’s top commander in Afghanistan -- warned of the quickly deteriorating situation in which the Taliban had seized more than100 district centers, and would soon gain more, as DIA had predicted. Miller specifically recommended directly to Biden that he choose to keep a small U.S. force in place to prevent Afghanistan’s collapse. Biden ignored the advice.

In joint testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee reviewing the Afghanistan fiasco, head of U.S. Central Command General Kenneth McKenzie confirmed Miller had directly advised Biden to keep a force of around 2,500 personnel in Afghanistan. McKenzie and General Mark Milley -- Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- testified under oath they had agreed with Miller, and both personally advised Biden to reverse course. Biden ignored them, too.

Biden even rejected the counsel of members of his inner circle of advisors, including National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

He also ignored the exhortations of top congressional leaders, most of whom chaired or sat on committees related to intelligence, foreign relations, and the armed services. Among others, Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Sasse were some of the most ardent critics. Even Democrats expressed extreme concern; Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) wrote a letter to Biden signed by 10 other congressmen outlining ways to improve stability. They never even received a reply.

The rest, of course, is history. Afghanistan fell rapidly, representing one of the most disgraceful and embarrassing episodes in U.S. history, rivaling the infamous fall of Saigon at the conclusion of the Vietnam War. Henry Kissinger wrote in the final days of the withdrawal, “The more fundamental concern, however, is how America found itself moved to withdraw in a decision taken without much warning or consultation with allies or the people most directly involved in 20 years of sacrifice. And why the basic challenge in Afghanistan has been conceived and presented to the public as a choice between full control of Afghanistan or complete withdrawal.”

As Kissinger noted, a third choice was clearly available. Biden was made aware of this choice and counseled to embrace it, but rejected it at every juncture. This is why Biden alone bears the culpability. And this -- in addition to the host of other nightmares he has unleashed upon the American people -- is why his occupation of the Oval Office is dangerous for the United States. One wonders how much more damage he can do in his remaining time as commander in chief. I worry that it will be quite substantial.

Jack McPherrin (jmcpherrin@heartland.orgis research editor at The Heartland Institute.

Image: Staff Sgt. Kylee Gardner

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