President Joe Biden’s administration has blamed his predecessor, Donald Trump, for the deadly and chaotic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2021.
The White House publicly released a 12-page summary of the results of the so-called “hotwash” of US policies around the ending of the nation’s longest war, asserting that Mr Biden was “severely constrained” by Mr Trump’s decisions.
It does acknowledge that the evacuation of Americans and allies from Afghanistan should have started sooner but blames the delays on the Afghan government and military and on US military and intelligence community assessments.
The administration said detailed reviews conducted by the State Department and the Pentagon, which the White House said would be transmitted privately to Congress on Thursday, were highly classified and would not be released publicly.
“President Biden’s choices for how to execute a withdrawal from Afghanistan were severely constrained by conditions created by his predecessor,” the White House summary states, noting that when Mr Biden entered office, “the Taliban were in the strongest military position that they had been in since 2001, controlling or contesting nearly half of the country”.
Mr Trump responded by accusing the Biden administration of playing “a new disinformation game” to distract from “their grossly incompetent SURRENDER in Afghanistan”. On his social media site, he said “Biden is responsible, no one else!”
The report does fault overly optimistic intelligence community assessments about the Afghan army’s willingness to fight, and says Mr Biden followed military commanders’ recommendations on the pace of the drawdown of US forces.
“Clearly we didn’t get it right,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday, but sidestepped questions about whether Mr Biden has any regrets for his decisions and actions leading up to the withdrawal.
The White House asserts the mistakes of Afghanistan informed its handling of Ukraine, where the Biden administration has been credited for supporting Kyiv’s defence against Russia’s invasion.
The White House says it simulated worst-case scenarios prior to the February 2022 invasion and moved to release intelligence about Moscow’s intentions months beforehand.
“We now prioritise earlier evacuations when faced with a degrading security situation,” the White House said.
In an apparent attempt to defend its national security decision-making, the Biden administration also notes that it released pre-war warnings over “strong objections from senior officials in the Ukrainian government”.
Republicans in Congress have sharply criticised the Afghanistan withdrawal, focusing on the deaths of 13 service members in a suicide bombing at Kabul’s airport, which also killed more than 100 Afghans.
Shawn Vandiver, a Navy veteran and founder of #AfghanEvac, an effort to resettle Afghans fleeing the country, called the report an “important next step”.
The administration’s report appears to shift any blame in the August 26 2021 suicide bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport, saying it was the US military that made one possibly key decision.
“To manage the potential threat of a terrorist attack, the President repeatedly asked whether the military required additional support to carry out their mission at HKIA,” the report said, adding, “Senior military officials confirmed that they had sufficient resources and authorities to mitigate threats.”
Mr Kirby credited US forces for their actions in running the largest airborne evacuation of non-combatants in history during the chaos of Kabul’s fall.
“They ended our nation’s longest war,” he told reporters. “That was never going to be an easy thing to do. And as the president himself has said, it was never going to be low grade or low risk or low cost.”
Since the US withdrawal, Mr Biden has blamed the February 2020 agreement Mr Trump reached with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, saying it boxed the US into leaving the country. The agreement has been blamed by analysts for undercutting the US-backed government, which collapsed the following year.
The Afghan government released roughly 5,000 Taliban prisoners after the Doha agreement as a condition of having peace talks with the Taliban. Mr Kirby noted that release and other examples of what he said was a “general sense of degradation and neglect” inherited by Mr Biden.