Group of US Army veterans accuse Joe Biden of ‘dishonesty’ over Afghanistan withdrawal
President Joe Biden recently offered a new defence of his controversial 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan, but US military veterans, volunteers, and other officials, according to HuffPost, have expressed deep unhappiness about the the process and what happened after, accusing the White House of dishonesty.
“It felt like an eighth grader wrote it from the middle school cafeteria,” said a current service member who spent months helping evacuate Afghan citizens from the country. “I think the public deserved more of an answer.”
The White House statement is an unclassified summary of an “After Action Review” that Biden directed across government agencies involved in the Afghan pull-out. The memo largely addresses how much responsibility Biden should bear for the way America ended its 20-year mission in Afghanistan — with a two-week withdrawal in which 13 American service members and hundreds of Afghan civilians died and thousands of people eligible for U.S. evacuations were left behind.
The answer, according to the memo: not much. Before Biden withdrew U.S. forces from Afghanistan in August 2021 and Taliban militants took over the country, the administration carried out “deliberate, intensive, rigorous, and inclusive” planning, the statement argues, including preparing for a major evacuation starting in May 2021.
Instead of evaluating the Biden administration’s internal debates and choices, the White House statement places significant blame on former President Donald Trump, noting that he signed a deal with the Taliban that set a deadline for U.S. forces to leave Afghanistan. Trump left no plan for a withdrawal or evacuation and damaged key national security institutions that had to implement the pull-out, according to the memo. Additionally, the memo raises questions about U.S. intelligence and military commanders, as well as Afghans themselves, saying Biden had little warning of a rapid Taliban takeover, let military personnel determine the operational details of the evacuation and tried without success to urge a stronger Afghan resistance to the Taliban.
Nine people who worked on the withdrawal and evacuation mission told HuffPost the White House statement offers a dishonest view of the situation. By emphasizing Trump’s decisions, overlooking gaps in Biden’s preparation and casting a shambolic moment as a success, the White House is fueling fresh frustration and hurting its credibility on Afghanistan even further, they argued.
Critics say Biden’s team should acknowledge its mistakes and identify who made decisions that damaged the rescue effort, as well as address the trauma and humanitarian toll that their approach caused. Veterans and other volunteers who have spent years trying to save Afghan partners of the U.S. also want Biden to take immediate steps to make ongoing evacuation efforts easier.
“From a military perspective and from even a citizen’s perspective it’s very difficult to believe in the [memo]… to believe in our country and to believe that I did the right thing in my youth,” said Perry Blackburn, a retired lieutenant colonel who was one of the first soldiers to deploy to Afghanistan in 2001. The founder of a nonprofit called AFGFree that works to evacuate Afghan allies, Blackburn said he has been struggling to get the Biden administration to help him get the remaining Afghans he is working with out of the country.
“I’m not going to give up,” Blackburn said. “I’m not going to stop fighting for these people.”
Others who worked on the evacuation mission echoed Blackburn’s frustration.
“I’m not sure what else I can say,” said a former State Department official who helped coordinate the evacuation. “I’m just disappointed.”
The Biden administration has defended its handling of the withdrawal, saying that it was the best possible outcome under the circumstances. But the criticism from those who were involved in the mission is likely to continue, as the Biden administration grapples with the aftermath of the chaotic withdrawal.