Speaking with conservative outlet Breitbart, three former officials of the Trump administration said that the 45th U.S. president had planned on keeping American special forces units in Afghanistan indefinitely.
According to the officials, President Donald Trump wanted the force to consist of around 800 men. Their mission would have been to support the Afghan military to prevent the kind of collapse recently witnessed this month.
“That was the hope…to be able to do the drone mission and the counterterrorism support, and also advising specifically the Afghan Special Forces who were doing a lot of the [counterterrorism] efforts…And Biden just pulled them out as well,” a former senior defense official said to Breitbart.
Another official pointed out that Trump had left 900 U.S. military personnel in Syria and said that the former president never pledged a full withdrawal from the country, despite his administration signing a peace deal with the Taliban.
If true, the revelations would show a strong contrast between the Trump administration’s approach and that of the current Biden leadership. According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. embassy staff in Kabul had warned of a possible rapid collapse of the corrupt and poorly motivated Afghan national army.
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Kash Patel, who served as the Pentagon chief of staff until January this year, confirmed that leaving a Special Forces Unit in Afghanistan to combat terrorist threats was one of the conditions that Trump was negotiating with the Taliban as part of the withdrawal agreement. Patel stated that leaving the Special Forces back would have allowed the country’s military to “feel secure enough.”
Other conditions included a “direct repudiation and rejection” of Al Qaeda by Taliban as well as a deal between the Afghan government and Taliban to negotiate an interim government that would have the assistance of Washington.
According to Patel, the blueprint of the exit as well as plans to pull out equipment, machinery, American citizens, etc. were all handed over to the Biden administration. However, “they just basically threw it out the window and fast forward six, seven, eight months,” he said. Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defence, also refused to meet with then-Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, never showing interest in discussing the transition plan.
Bagram air base
The Biden administration’s decision to depart Bagram, a massive air base situated 20 miles north of Kabul, is also being heavily criticized. Had Washington retained control of the base, it could have evacuated more Americans easily and safely. The base is also easier to defend. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said that handing over Bagram base was part of the Trump administration’s plan.
However, Trump officials claim that the president planned to keep the air base until all Americans were evacuated. “They gave that up before doing anything. And now they’re wondering why Kabul international airport is basically a war zone… Biden did that, and that’s not a plan, that’s just ridiculous,” Patel said.
At a recent rally in Alabama, Trump had called Biden’s handling of the U.S withdrawal from Afghanistan the “greatest foreign policy humiliation” in American history. “Biden’s botched exit from Afghanistan is the most astonishing display of gross incompetence by a nation’s leader, perhaps at any time,” Trump said at the rally.
In an interview with Fox News, Trump stated that Biden’s decision to pull out troops from Afghanistan first left American citizens at the mercy of the Taliban. He warned that the Taliban could capture stranded Americans and use them as hostages. The former president also criticized Biden for allowing the Taliban to gain access to U.S. weapons and get control of Bagram air base. Trump said that the U.S. military should have been the last to exit Afghanistan.
Leo Timm contributed to this report.