- A number of GOP lawmakers slammed Biden's handling of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
- McConnell said Biden was to blame for Taliban forces taking over the country.
- The deal to remove US troops from the country was negotiated under Trump.
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A number of congressional Republicans are criticizing President Joe Biden's handling of the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan amid desperate scenes of Afghans scrambling to get on airplanes out of the country.
Yet the decision to leave the country was originally negotiated under President Donald Trump and allowed the Taliban to strengthen their position against the US-backed government - a circumstance most Republicans skirted around in their criticism.
After Taliban forces took control of Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, over the weekend, GOP lawmakers effectively said that the Biden administration was solely to blame for the collapse of the Afghan government.
"The Biden Administration's botched exit from Afghanistan including the frantic evacuation of Americans and vulnerable Afghans from Kabul is a shameful failure of American leadership," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement on Sunday.
While the highest-ranked Republican senator pointed out that both Republican and Democratic administrations over the past several years had overseen foreign-policy failures in Afghanistan, he placed the brunt of the current situation on Biden.
"I have never hesitated to express myself candidly when leaders of either party threatened to put politics ahead of reality on the ground," McConnell said. "But as the monumental collapse our own experts predicted unfolds in Kabul today, responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of our current Commander-in-Chief."
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has long opposed a full military withdrawal from Afghanistan, also faulted Biden for the crisis in the country.
"It is only a matter of time until al-Qaeda reemerges in Afghanistan and presents a threat to the American homeland and western world," Graham said in a tweet. "President Biden seems oblivious to the terrorist threats that will come from a Taliban-run Afghanistan"
-Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) August 16, 2021
Similarly, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, condemned the president and said he did not carry out Trump's strategy.
"President Biden owns this mess - the blood is on his hands," Inhofe said in a statement on Sunday. "President Biden did not inherit the current withdrawal from President Trump - in fact, he has deviated from the previous administration's plan and set his own disastrous course."
He added: "Biden needs to admit he made a strategic mistake leading to tragic consequences for U.S. national security and the Afghan people."
Some GOP lawmakers also criticized Biden, who had been on planned vacation at the presidential retreat Camp David, for staying silent on the issue as the Taliban seized control of Kabul on Sunday.
"The American people deserve to hear immediately from their commander-in-chief and to know who's in charge," Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas wrote on Twitter.
As the backlash mounted, Biden on Monday afternoon defended his decision to pull out at the White House.
A blame game
While the Biden administration executed the US withdrawal, it was the Trump administration that brokered a deal with the Taliban to pull out US troops. The agreement, signed in February 2020, stipulated that US troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan within 14 months. The deal was much criticized for acceding to the Taliban demand of not including the Afghan government. At the time, the Taliban already controlled nearly half the country.
Biden largely upheld the Trump-era deal, though he didn't follow that exact timeline. Many observers said the US's agreement in principle to depart cost it leverage it could have used to compel the Taliban to adhere to the peace deal and a cessation of hostilities.
After the negotiations, Trump began slimming down the US's presence. By mid-January, there were only about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. To put this into perspective, there were more US troops deployed to Washington, DC, as a result of the January 6 insurrection than the number deployed in Afghanistan.
An Afghan special-forces officer told The Washington Post that Trump's withdrawal deal demoralized Afghan troops and made them feel as though a Taliban takeover was inevitable.
"The day the deal was signed we saw the change. Everyone was just looking out for himself," the officer said.
Trump on Sunday criticized Biden over the Afghanistan withdrawal, saying that the president didn't follow the plan he crafted. But outside the original timeline, in which US troops would've fully pulled out in May, Biden hardly diverged from Trump's peace agreement.
Biden in a statement on Saturday placed blame on Trump for the chaos in Afghanistan, saying that he'd inherited a deal that "left the Taliban in the strongest position militarily since 2001."
From Bush to Biden, US presidents failed in Afghanistan
There is ample evidence that the US withdrawal has been rushed and sloppy, particularly when it comes to helping vulnerable Afghans who assisted the US during the conflict. But the US's ultimate failure in Afghanistan cannot be laid at the feet of a single president or administration.
The war in Afghanistan has been chaotic from start to finish, with US troops often unsure of their mission as multiple administrations - both Republican and Democratic - misled the public about the state of the conflict.
Over the years, Americans were repeatedly told that the US was turning a corner in Afghanistan, but there was rarely evidence to back that up. The US invested $83 billion in training and equipping Afghan forces, with little to show for it. The Afghan military consistently struggled with endemic corruption and discipline issues, exhibiting few signs that it could defeat the Taliban without US assistance.
Every president who has overseen this war made decisions that exacerbated the conflict in various ways.
The war in Afghanistan began in October 2001 under President George W. Bush, who within the first month of the conflict rejected an offer from the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden in exchange for the US to stop bombing the country. In May 2003, the Bush administration declared that "major combat" was over in Afghanistan. As time would show, this was exceptionally premature.
President Barack Obama drastically ramped up America's troop presence in Afghanistan in 2009 - a move that Biden opposed as vice president. In 2014, Obama shared a timeline to bring US troops home by 2016. He declared an end to the US combat mission in the country in December 2014, but the war was nowhere near finished - and US troops remained in Afghanistan when Obama left office.
While Trump promised to end "forever wars," he relaxed the rules of engagement for airstrikes in Afghanistan in 2017, and under his watch, civilian casualties in the county rose 330% from 2016.
Biden announced the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in April. The Taliban continued to make gains across the country throughout spring and into summer, raising fears of an eventual takeover. Last month, Biden rejected the notion that it was "inevitable" the Taliban would regain power and expressed confidence in the Afghan military. Within a matter of weeks, the Taliban was back in control of Afghanistan.
There's no doubt that Biden and his advisors got much wrong about what would transpire in Afghanistan, but recent events are a product of years of poor decision-making by the US. Like other empires before it, the US has learned the hard way that no amount of military might and money can fundamentally change a complex country like Afghanistan.