Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series on the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and the aftermath.
In my last column, I promised to write more about the true story of America’s troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and the resulting chaos. To paraphrase a famous movie line, this series is for folks who “can handle the truth.”
Most people are aware that the U.S. invaded Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, to destroy Al Qaeda forces that used the country as a base to launch terrorist attacks on the U.S. Over 20 years, the U.S. has spent nearly $3 trillion to rout Al Qaeda and their Taliban allies. Nearly 2,500 American service members lost their lives in our nation’s longest war.
Debate over pulling our troops from the country has been ongoing for several years, most notably by Donald Trump in the final year of his presidency. According to ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl, Trump wanted credit for bringing our troops home as a boost to his re-election bid.
“… The truth is that (President) Biden accomplished exactly what Trump tried to do …The only real difference is that Trump wanted to withdraw more quickly and with less regard for the Afghan citizens who worked with the United States,” Karl wrote in a news analysis.
While Trump and his minions are taking shots at Biden, “some of the key players Trump tapped to carry out his planned withdrawal are actually praising Biden for finishing a job they said Trump started,” Karl noted.
“The fact is this was the Trump-Biden withdrawal,” said William Ruger, named by Trump to be the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan in September 2020. When the Pentagon announced the last U.S. troops had departed before Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline, Ruger tweeted a one-word response. “Finally.”
In November, Trump installed retired Col. Douglas MacGregor as a senior adviser to the secretary of defense with marching orders to push military leaders to get all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, Karl reported.
On his first day on the job, MacGregor drafted a one-page presidential order to complete the withdrawal of all uniformed U.S. military personnel by Jan. 12, 2021. Trump signed the order Nov. 11, 2020.
The withdrawal order horrified top military leaders including Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and CENTCOM commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, Karl wrote. Both men had just weeks earlier signed off on a memo written by recently ousted Defense Secretary Mark Esper warning that the withdrawal of U.S. troops would result in chaos in Afghanistan and a heightened terror threat in the U.S.
Ultimately, Trump agreed to a slightly slower withdrawal timeline that would bring the number of U.S. troops down to 2,500 by the time he left office.
During his last year in office, Trump’s desire to withdraw American troops became something of an obsession, Karl noted. He believed his own top national security officials had thwarted him, and he set out to purge those who he thought were keeping him from getting the credit he deserved for ending the war.
Trump orchestrated several major changes at the Pentagon, including replacement of Esper who opposed withdrawal. And Trump’s obsession didn’t end by getting rid of Pentagon personnel. During the spring and summer of 2020, top Trump officials from all departments were interviewed to gauge their level of loyalty to Trump, Karl wrote.
One frequent question asked was this: “Do you support the president’s plan to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan?”
“I discovered that this question was asked of officials who held jobs that had nothing to do with Afghanistan policy, including an official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and another at the Environmental Protection Agency,” Karl noted.
Excerpts for Karl’s article came from reporting on his upcoming book, “Betrayal: The Final Chapter of the Trump Show.”
Next: How the Trump administration impeded an orderly withdrawal of American and Afghan citizens.