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House GOP report accuses Biden of knowingly misleading public about Afghanistan exit

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 8/14/2022 Jerry Dunleavy

President Joe Biden has been accused in a report by House Republicans of knowingly misleading the country about the justification for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in his April 2021 speech.

The speech set the stage for a chaotic evacuation and a deadly Taliban takeover in August 2021.

The damning, 100-page report claims Biden's speech was littered with claims disconnected from the reality on the ground — which House Republicans say had cascading effects leading to disaster. Republicans pointed to five main claims, and, after investigating, the group “now believes none of these claims were accurate, and worse, President Biden was likely aware they were not accurate when he made his case to the American people.”

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FILE - In this April 14, 2021, file photo, President Joe Biden speaks from the Treaty Room in the White House, about the withdrawal of the remainder of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The final phase of ending America's “forever war” in Afghanistan after 20 years formally began Saturday, May 1, 2021, with the withdrawal of the last U.S. and NATO troops by the end of summer. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File) Andrew Harnik/AP © Provided by Washington Examiner FILE - In this April 14, 2021, file photo, President Joe Biden speaks from the Treaty Room in the White House, about the withdrawal of the remainder of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The final phase of ending America's “forever war” in Afghanistan after 20 years formally began Saturday, May 1, 2021, with the withdrawal of the last U.S. and NATO troops by the end of summer. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File) Andrew Harnik/AP

“On April 14, 2021, President Joe Biden announced his decision to unconditionally withdraw all U.S. military personnel from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021,” the House GOP report said. “Over the following four months, the administration repeatedly delayed critical action that was necessary to mitigate the likely consequences of the decision. The result of their inaction was a chaotic Non-combatant Evacuation Operation where 13 U.S. servicemembers lost their lives and more than 800 Americans were abandoned behind enemy lines.”

First, Biden said the withdrawal decision was reached “after consulting closely with our allies and partners, with our military leaders and intelligence personnel” and that it would be done “in full coordination with our allies and partners.”

But the GOP said, “This assertion was challenged almost immediately,” adding that "top military advisors” such as then-CENTCOM Commander Gen. Frank McKenzie and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley “recommended the president keep a 2,500-strong U.S. contingent in the country that could conduct counterterrorism operations and support Afghan troops.”

Second, the president argued the U.S. could not maintain a presence there without a “return to war with the Taliban.” But the report said this was contradicted by top military officials, who testified that “they believed the 2,500 U.S. troops who were in Afghanistan when the president announced his intention to fully withdraw could be sufficient to maintain a degree of stability and could protect themselves from any potential Taliban attacks.”

Third, Biden contended that he “inherited a diplomatic agreement,” the Doha agreement signed under former President Donald Trump, “duly negotiated between the government of the United States and the Taliban, that all U.S. forces would be out of Afghanistan” by May 2021, saying, “We inherited — that commitment.”

But Republicans claim the agreement “was predicated on conditions by the Taliban that were not being met” and pointed to the provision that “the Taliban will not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.” The Taliban continued their decadeslong history of hosting al Qaeda, so Republicans said the Taliban’s “failure to adhere to the agreement nullified the U.S. requirement to withdraw.”

"While the Taliban did not attack U.S. forces ... it failed to fully honor any — any — other commitments," Milley testified in September 2021.

Fourth, Biden claimed in his April 2021 speech that “we accomplished that objective” of ensuring “Afghanistan would not be used as a base from which to attack our homeland again." Biden went even further a few days after Kabul fell, claiming al Qaeda was “gone” from Afghanistan, with Republicans noting, “Even members of his own administration acknowledged was incorrect.”

A month before Biden’s follow-up July 2021 speech, the U.N. Security Council said al Qaeda “is resident in at least 15 Afghan provinces.” Republicans also argued, “Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan has grown even more robust in the wake of the withdrawal, with senior al Qaeda members advising Taliban leaders and maintaining a presence in Kabul, as demonstrated by the presence of al Qaeda’s leader Ayman al Zawahiri in a villa in downtown Kabul."

And finally, Biden contended in his April 2021 speech the U.S. had “trained and equipped a standing force of over 300,000 Afghan personnel today” and that “they’ll continue to fight valiantly.” Biden would claim in July 2021 that the Afghan military had nearly 300,000 “current serving members.”

These numbers were wrong.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released a report in July 2021 noting that, as of the end of April 2021, 300,699 Afghan National Defense and Security Forces personnel were enrolled in the Afghan Personnel and Pay System, but only 182,071 of them were Afghan National Army members, while the rest were Afghan National Police.

Milley also got the size of the Afghan military wrong during Senate testimony in June 2021, claiming, “The government of Afghanistan is holding, and they have approximately about 325,000- to 350,000-person security force — army and police force.” Those numbers were inflated, at minimum, by 25,000 to 50,000.

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The Afghanistan watchdog concluded this May that “the single most important factor” in the collapse of Afghan forces “was the U.S. decision to withdraw U.S. military and contractors from Afghanistan through the signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement in February 2020 under the Trump Administration, and President Biden’s public address in April 2021.”

During the speech, Biden declared the U.S. and NATO “will be out of Afghanistan before we mark the 20th anniversary of that heinous attack on September 11th.” Setting the date as the 9/11 anniversary was befuddling to many, and in July 2021, the president switched it to the end of August 2021.

Biden would repeat his withdrawal justifications throughout the spring and summer, even as the Taliban continued their march and the situation rapidly deteriorated. He was left with no “viable option” other than to withdraw U.S. forces, according to a senior State Department official who suggested Trump’s team tied their hands with a flawed agreement with the Taliban.

“It was preordained,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters while defending the withdrawal in August 2021. “It’s a deal that this administration probably would not have made, certainly not in all the detail. But it’s the deal that we inherited.”

“The idea that the United States could have maintained a significant military presence in Afghanistan ... that was just not tenable,” Price maintained. “It was not in the cards, because according to that agreement that was negotiated by the United States, not this administration, but the previous one, if our forces remain there in great numbers after May 1, they could have become the targets of violence.”

“In the four months from when President Biden announced his plan to unconditionally withdraw until the fall of Kabul, the Committee Minority has found the State Department took very few substantive steps the prepare for the consequences that were expected,” the report said, adding that the State Department was "unable to provide adequate assistance to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, Special Immigrant Visa holders and applicants, and other at-risk Afghans."

A lack of preparation meant that “at the height of the evacuation, only 36 U.S. consular officers were on the ground in Kabul, despite needing to process more than one hundred thousand evacuees,” the GOP report said. Republicans said ultimately more than 800 American citizens, thousands of green card holders, and tens of thousands of Afghan allies were left behind.

The GOP report closed out by leveling a damning claim at the president.

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“The Committee Minority also has compiled proof senior Biden administration political appointees repeatedly misled the American public about the situation on the ground in Kabul, issuing wildly pollyannish statements about progress at the airport and the Taliban’s cooperation in carrying out the evacuation,” Republicans concluded.

ISIS-K was responsible for the late August 2021 suicide bombing at the Kabul airport, which killed 13 U.S. service members and wounded dozens of others, also killing at least 170 Afghan civilians. The Taliban were providing security outside the airport when the bomber got through. The U.S. rejected a mid-August 2021 Taliban offer for the U.S. military to secure Kabul itself.

Days after the bombing, the U.S. launched an airstrike officials believed would prevent an imminent terrorist attack on the airport, though officials later acknowledged the strike had targeted a civilian aid worker who they thought posed a risk to the evacuation. The target, Zemari Ahmadi, was killed along with nine other civilians, his children among them.

 

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Tags: Afghanistan, National Security, Joe Biden, House Foreign Affairs, Michael McCaul, Taliban, al Qaeda

Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy

Original Location: House GOP report accuses Biden of knowingly misleading public about Afghanistan exit

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