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May 20, 2022, 7:27 a.m. EDT

U.S. troop withdrawals ordered by Trump and Biden precipitated collapse of Afghan military: watchdog

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Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A government watchdog says decisions by Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden to pull all U.S. 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, or SIGAR, mirrors assertions made by senior Pentagon and military leaders in the aftermath of the U.S. troop withdrawal that ended last August in the tumultuous 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 U.S. troops in the country, but that plan was not approved.

See: Deadly terrorist attack at Abbey Gate outside Kabul airport was not preventable, Pentagon concludes

In February 2020, the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, in which the U.S. 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 through the end of the Trump presidency.

From the archives (October 2020): Pentagon blindsided by Trump’s new Afghanistan troop withdrawal assertion

Trump Today (August 2019): Trump says U.S. planning to reduce troop numbers in Afghanistan

Just a few months later, Biden, having taken office in January 2022, announced he would complete the U.S. 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 U.S.-Taliban agreement was an act of bad faith and a signal that the U.S. 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.”

From the archives (June 2020): Russian bounties in Afghanistan resulted in U.S. deaths: report

Plus (June 2020): White House aware of Russian bounties in 2019 and Trump was briefed, officials say

U.S. officials have said they were surprised by the quick collapse of the military and the government, prompting sharp congressional criticism of the intelligence community for failing to foresee it.

At a congressional hearing last week, senators questioned whether there is a need to reform how intelligence agencies assess a foreign military’s will to fight.

Lawmakers pointed to two key examples: U.S. 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.

Military and defense leaders have said that the Afghanistan collapse was built on years of missteps, as the U.S. struggled to find a successful way to train and equip Afghan forces.

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