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Congress to scrutinize Biden administration's Afghanistan withdrawal

Congress will hear testimony on the contentious withdrawal from Afghanistan, which has prompted criticism of both the Biden and Trump administrations.
Posted at 10:21 PM, Apr 18, 2023

As Congress returns this week, so does criticism and questions into the Biden administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan

This week House committees will hold two hearings over the matter. 

Before Congress went on recess, the administration in a late afternoon news dump shared a 12-page review summary of the 2021 withdrawal that detailed lessons learned and the decision making process.

"He's the Commander-in-Chief. And he absolutely has responsibility for the operations that our men and women conduct and the orders that he gives. And he continues to believe that the order to withdraw from Afghanistan was the right one," said John Kirby, NSC coordinator for Strategic communication, when the document was released. 

The report largely puts the onus on the Trump administration.

"President Biden's choices for how to execute a withdrawal from Afghanistan were severely constrained by conditions created by his predecessor," it states. 

The document describes the deal brokered by Trump with the Taliban that set a May 2021 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops, the decreased troop presence to 2,500 when Biden took office, the strength of the Taliban at that point and a lack of plans. 

"During the transition from the Trump Administration to the Biden Administration, the outgoing administration provided no plans for how to conduct the final withdrawal or to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies. Indeed, there were no such plans in place when President Biden came into office, even with the agreed upon full withdrawal just over three months away," the report states. 

"I thought it was ridiculous. I thought it was unfair. And I thought it was a rewriting of history," said former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

Afghan passengers board a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III during the Afghanistan evacuation.

Biden review of chaotic Afghan withdrawal blames Trump

A review of the Afghanistan withdrawal claims President Joe Biden was "constrained" by earlier decisions made by former President Donald Trump.


Esper, author of "A Sacred Oath: Memoirs of a Secretary of Defense During Extraordinary Times," served for 18 months under Trump before being fired the day after the election for disagreeing with the president on military policy.

"We had plans that we're implementing underway to go down to 4,500. That's where I drew the line. That's where if you might recall, in late October, early November, I wrote a classified memo to the President saying we should not go below 4,500 Until the Taliban meets their end of the deal. And make it a conditions based plan, as we agreed to. So we kind of held the line there. So I was tracking close to the plans that would take us further down, I had not yet gotten to the point where we were reviewing plans to literally evacuate, if you will, the country," he said. 

Esper told Scripps News Trump, Biden and many in Congress wanted out of Afghanistan but that the process should have been more deliberate and the plan conditions based. 

"And so when we get to this period in the fall of 2020, and this kind of gets more to what I would have recommended to President Biden make the Taliban live up to their end of the deal. Tell them that if they don't agree to the things that they had agreed to in writing, that we were going to keep our troops there in country, and we're going to extend them. And if that still didn't work, then we could resume military operations. Those are clear options. And he could have pursued as well. And I thought we should have pursued in the Trump administration in the end game," Esper said. 

"It really seemed to point the majority of the blame to the previous administration without recognizing the fact that the President Biden had multiple things he could have done, he could have changed, particularly in the nine months or so that he had to do it," Esper said. 

The Biden Administration pushed back against this assertion previously. 

"He had to take eight months to plan because whatever plans there might have been done by the previous administration, we didn't see. And it was not apparent that there was a lot of planning done," Kirby said. 

Criticism of the administrations has fallen along party lines for some lawmakers

House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence held a hearing Tuesday with national security experts. 

"The administration released a report I believe white washed and shamelessly shift blamed about the execution of the deadly withdrawal in a very inaccurate form," said Rep. August Pfluger. 

"The fact is it was Trump's Taliban deal that set the chaos in motion," said Rep. Seth Magaziner during the hearing. 

The House Committee on Oversight and Accountability will hold a hearing Wednesday that includes testimony from inspector generals from the DOD and State Department.

The report stated: "Ultimately, after more than twenty years, more than $2 trillion, and standing up an Afghan army of 300,000 soldiers, the speed and ease with which the Taliban took control of Afghanistan suggests that there was no scenario — except a permanent and significantly expanded U.S. military presence — that would have changed the trajectory."