Biden points to deal negotiated by Trump to explain Afghanistan exit

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Amid the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Biden said Monday that his decision to pull American forces from the country stemmed from a deal that former President Donald Trump’s administration had negotiated with the Taliban.

“When I came into office I inherited a deal that President Trump had negotiated with the Taliban,” Biden said at the White House, adding, “The choice I had to make as your president was either to follow through on that agreement or be prepared to go back to fighting the Taliban in the middle of the spring fighting season.

“There was only the cold reality of either following through on the agreement to withdraw our forces or escalating the conflict and sending thousands more American troops into combat in Afghanistan, lurching into the third decade of conflict,” Biden said.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the worsening crisis in Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House August 16, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
President Biden delivers remarks on the worsening crisis in Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House on Monday. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan was signed in Doha, Qatar, by the Taliban and the United States on Feb. 29, 2020. In exchange for a ceasefire with American and allied forces and the severing of ties with terrorist groups, the U.S. pledged to facilitate the release of thousands of Taliban prisoners and withdraw its forces by May 1, 2021. The Afghan government was not involved in the negotiations.

Trump, who campaigned on bringing the war to an end in both the 2016 and 2020 elections, had frequently touted the agreement.

“I’ll say this for the Taliban,” Trump said in March 2020 after the deal was signed. “They’re great fighters. You know that obviously. They’re great fighters. All you have to do is ask the Soviet Union. Are they great fighters? They are great fighters. But they’re tired also. This is 19 years, 19 years.”

Trump also took credit for the war’s end at a rally last month. “I started the process, all the troops are coming home,” he said. “Biden couldn’t stop the process.”

The Biden administration eventually moved the withdrawal date to Sept. 11, and then back to Aug. 31. With American forces pulling out, the Taliban swiftly rolled through and took control of the country in a matter of days. When discussing the troop withdrawal in July, Biden said it was “highly unlikely” that the Taliban was capable of such a swift victory.

But in his remarks Monday, Biden struck a defiant tone. “I stand squarely behind my decision,” the president said. “After 20 years I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.”

U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, left, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban group's top political leader sign a peace agreement between Taliban and U.S. officials in Doha, Qatar. on February 29, 2020. (Hussein Sayed/AP)
U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, left, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s top political leader, sign a peace agreement between the Taliban and U.S. officials in Doha, Qatar, on Feb. 29, 2020. (Hussein Sayed/AP)

Biden blamed the Afghan government and military for the quick collapse of the Western-backed regime in the country. The administration has been criticized for its slow processing of evacuees, thousands of whom helped the U.S.-led coalition over the previous two decades and face danger of retaliation.

When asked about the possibility of future relations with a Taliban government, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday that the administration was taking stock of what had happened in the preceding 72 hours.

“When it comes to the Taliban, we are going to look to their actions rather than listen to their words,” Price said.

Trump and his fellow Republicans have spent much of the last few days criticizing Biden. But in an April 18 statement, Trump said he wished Biden wouldn’t use Sept. 11 as the withdrawal date, stating that “we can and should get out sooner.” The former president added, “Getting out of Afghanistan is a wonderful and positive thing to do. I planned to withdraw on May 1, and we should keep as close to that schedule as possible.”

In a statement Monday, however, Trump said that Biden should “resign in disgrace” due to the situation in Afghanistan.


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