Biden ‘privately defiant’ over chaotic 2021 Afghanistan withdrawal, book says

 in Washington

Joe Biden is “privately defiant” that he made the right calls on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in summer 2021, a new book reportedly says, even as the chaos and carnage that unfolded continues to be investigated in Congress.

“No one offered to resign” over the withdrawal, writes Alexander Ward, a Politico reporter, “in large part because the president didn’t believe anyone had made a mistake. Ending the war was always going to be messy.”

Ward’s book, The Internationalists: The Fight to Restore Foreign Policy After Trump, will be published next week. Axios reported extracts on Friday.

Ward adds: “Biden told his top aides, [national security adviser Jake] Sullivan included, that he stood by them and they had done their best during a tough situation.”

Ward quotes an unnamed White House official as saying: “There wasn’t even a real possibility of a shake-up.”

The US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, a month after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. The Taliban, which had sheltered the leader of al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden, was soon ousted but fighting never ceased.

Figures for the total US death toll in the country since 2001 vary. The United States Institute of Peace, an independent body established by Congress, says that 2,324 US military personnel, 3,917 US contractors and 1,144 allied troops were killed during the conflict. More than 20,000 Americans were wounded.

“For Afghans,” the institute goes on, “the statistics are nearly unimaginable: 70,000 Afghan military and police deaths, 46,319 Afghan civilians (although that is likely a significant underestimation) and some 53,000 opposition fighters killed. Almost 67,000 other people were killed in Pakistan in relation to the Afghan war.”

Hundreds of thousands were displaced. Furthermore, according to the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University, “four times as many [US] service members have died by suicide than in combat in the post-9/11 wars [including Iraq and other campaigns], signaling a widespread mental health crisis”.

Biden entered office determined to withdraw, and in late summer 2021 US forces pulled out, leaving the defense of the country to US-trained Afghan national forces.

The Taliban swiftly overran that opposition, and soon scenes of chaos at Kabul airport dominated world news. Tens of thousands of Afghans who sought to leave, fearing Taliban reprisals after a 20-year US occupation, were unable to get out. More than 800 US citizens were left behind, notwithstanding Biden’s promise on 18 August that troops would stay until every US citizen who wanted to leave had done so.

Ward, Axios said, quotes a senior White House official as saying: “There’s no one here who thinks we can meet that promise.”

On 26 August, 13 US service members were killed in a suicide attack. Three days later, a US drone strike killed 10 Afghan civilians, seven of them children. No Americans faced disciplinary action over the strike, which a US air force inspector general called “an honest mistake”.

According to Axios, Ward also details extensive infighting over the withdrawal between the Departments of State and Defense.

Biden, Ward says, tended to favour the state department, having been chair of the Senate foreign affairs committee, and to be wary of the Pentagon, having been vice-president to Barack Obama through eight years of inconclusive war.

Biden ‘privately defiant’ over chaotic 2021 Afghanistan withdrawal, book says