Biden’s defense secretary says Trump admin. didn’t handover plans for Afghanistan withdrawal, despite making deal with Taliban

Lloyd Austin Mark Milley
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, right, pictured in Maryland.
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to House lawmakers he received no plans from Trump officials for the Afghanistan withdrawal.
  • "There was no handoff to me of any plans for a withdrawal," Austin said.
  • The Trump admin. made a deal with the Taliban to pull all US troops by May 1.
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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday told House lawmakers that Trump officials did not handover any plans to him for the Afghanistan withdrawal. The Trump administration set the stage for the pullout via a February 2020 deal with the Taliban, which included a pledge to withdraw US troops by May 1, 2021.

"There was no handoff to me of any plans for a withdrawal," Austin said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the Afghanistan withdrawal.

Austin added that he was "confident" Gen. Austin Miller, who stepped down as the top US commander in Afghanistan in July, was "making plans" for a pullout.

"But in terms of handoff from administration to administration, secretary to secretary, there was no handoff to me," Austin said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a similar point in a House hearing earlier this month. "We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan," Blinken said.

Pulling off a withdrawal from the longest conflict in US history was always going to be a highly complex task, involving removing or destroying valuable military equipment and safely pulling out thousands of US forces - all while hoping the fledgling US-backed Afghan government would not collapse in the process.

Ultimately, the Afghan government fell in concert with the US departure and Taliban takeover, which prompted scenes of mass chaos at the Kabul airport. Austin said the evacuation of thousands of people in August amounted to the "largest airlift conducted in U.S. history."

President Joe Biden came into office with the drawdown of US forces in Afghanistan already underway. A blueprint for the next steps in the withdrawal from the administration that initiated the pullout could've made the process smoother.

The Trump administration's February 2020 with the Taliban - known as the Doha agreement - called for the US to pull all troops by May. The agreement, which the US-backed Afghan government was excluded from, set up a 14-month timetable for the withdrawal of "all military forces of the US, its allies, and Coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel."

Biden largely upheld the agreement, though he extended the deadline for the withdrawal.

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told both Senate and House lawmakers this week that the Taliban failed to live up to nearly all of the commitments the militant group made under the deal. The Taliban did not attack US forces after the agreement, but Milley said the militant Islamists "never renounced Al Qaeda or broke its affiliation with them."

Milley and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, also told lawmakers the Doha agreement was detrimental to morale among Afghan forces.

The Biden administration has laid much of the blame on the Taliban's rapid conquest of Afghanistan on the Afghan military. Before marching into Kabul in mid-August, the Taliban took over major cities at a blistering pace - often without much of a fight. Just weeks before, Biden had expressed "trust" in the abilities of Afghan forces, who were trained and armed by the US.

The Biden administration has faced rampant criticism over its handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal. But Republicans who've gone after the administration over the pullout have often ignored the fact the Trump administration paved the way for the withdrawal by making a deal with the Taliban.

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