Biden is far from the first to lie, obfuscate, and mislead on Afghanistan. He’s part of a long line of well-documented falsehoods stretching back almost 20 years. Everyone knew the Afghan Army was a disaster and the government was corrupt, but they moved ahead anyway, wasting billions of dollars and costing thousands of lives, ending in a disgraceful defeat.
On Tuesday, President Biden delivered a national address to officially announce the end of the war in Afghanistan. Responses from the speech ranged from ecstatic, praising Biden’s blunt forcefulness, to panning practically every word and accusing him of shifting blame to President Trump, the Afghan Army, Americans in Afghanistan, you name it. He began by stating the obvious, “Last night in Kabul, the United States ended 20 years of war in Afghanistan — the longest war in American history,” and then praised himself for executing an airlift, “an extraordinary success,” that most observers agree wouldn’t have been necessary had the government not completely botched the withdrawal, turning a strategic retreat into a full-fledged rout. Just to be clear how incredible it was in his mind, the President claimed, “No nation — no nation has ever done anything like it in all of history. Only the United States had the capacity and the will and the ability to do it, and we did it today.”
Left unsaid was whether or not any nation has had to do it for obvious reasons. Also left unsaid was why we should believe a word he says at this point, or a word anyone in the government says after close to 20 years of lies and abject failure, from the shift in mission to nation building after successfully toppling the Taliban in 2001 to the speech just yesterday, and just about everything in between.
For example, President Biden claimed the airlift was necessary because they made an assumption “that the Afghan government would be able to hold on for a period of time beyond military drawdown” which proved to be inaccurate. This might be believable if the problems with the Afghan Army have not been known for over a decade now, known and widely reported in the media and under oath in front of Congress. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a government group headed by John Sopko, provides oversight on our efforts and has issued multiple reports stating emphatically that the Afghan Army cannot protect the country. As recently as March 16, a month before Biden announced the September 11 withdrawal date, Mr. Sopko testified before Congress.
He began by noting that they have repeatedly voiced concerns around three key items. “Afghanistan remains one of the world’s poorest and most dangerous countries. The ANDSF cannot protect the population from insurgents in large parts of the country. The central government’s institutional capabilities are generally weak.” Mr. Sopko continued to provide additional detail, that “Taliban attacks on Afghan security forces and others have intensified, so military and civilian casualties remain high” and “Afghan security forces also face critical capability gaps such as for aircraft maintenance that require long-term international support,” support that Biden himself withdrew with barely any notice in July.
Citing “increasing security” as a critical issue facing Afghanistan, the report quoted General Austin Scott Miller, the commander of both US and NATO forces, “Taliban violence is much higher than historical norms. It just doesn’t create the conditions to move forward in what is hopefully a historic turning point for Afghanistan.” Ultimately, SIGAR concluded, “Though some ANDSF capabilities have improved since the last High-Risk List, the force still faces long-term capability and sustainability challenges that require various forms of continued U.S. military support,” again support that Biden yanked and acted like he was completely unaware of the implications. SIGAR isn’t responsible for recommending policy, but they helpfully added some key questions, “After more than $88 billion appropriated so far to build, equip, train, and sustain the ANDSF, are Afghan forces capable of maintaining the status quo against the Taliban until an Afghan peace agreement is implemented or longer-term if a peace deal does not emerge? If not, what options should be considered to ensure they can, and for how long?”
Nor was this the first time that Mr. Sopko had raised concerns about the Afghan Army and our own government’s truthfulness in recent years. In January 2020, he told Congress that not only was the US government lying about the Afghan Army and our progress, but the processes in place had been set up to incentivize hiding the truth. “There’s an odor of mendacity throughout the Afghanistan issue,” he explained. “The problem is there is a disincentive, really, to tell the truth. We have created an incentive to almost require people to lie.” Ambassador Karl Eikenberry is a classic case of this phenomenon in action, going all the way back to 2009 before then President Obama ordered a surge of troops to stabilize the country. At the time, he sent a message to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The secret cable claimed that “sending additional forces will delay the day when Afghans will take over, and make it difficult, if not impossible, to bring our people home on a reasonable timetable.” Ambassador Eikenberry went on to note that we cannot “overestimate the ability of the Afghan security forces to take over,” concluding that he “cannot support DoD’s recommendation for an immediate presidential decision to deploy another 40,000 troops here.
Then he went to Congress a month later and said the exact opposite, the troop surge “offers the best path to stabilize Afghanistan and to ensure al Qaeda and other terrorist groups cannot regain a foothold to plan new attacks against our country or our allies. I fully support this approach.”
Mr. Sopko wasn’t the only person raising concerns, either. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said in 2016 that the Afghan military was capable of helping the US “clear an area, but the police can’t hold it, not because they’re out-gunned or out-manned. It’s because they are useless as a security force and they’re useless as a security force because they are corrupt down to the patrol level,” adding that “of all the painful lessons I carry out of my time in those two war zones, Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s the … corruption at every level, that is the starkest point.” Nor were these facts only reported by the government. In December 2019, The Washington Post published the explosive Afghanistan Papers. As reported by The Nation, the Post concluded, “They lied. They lied repeatedly, year after year, about America’s longest war—the Afghanistan fiasco now in its 19th year. They—presidents, department heads, generals, civilians, and uniformed military up and down the line—misled the American people, reporting ‘progress’ in a misguided war that they knew was not being won.”
In addition to concerns about the Afghan Army, corruption throughout the entire Afghan government was also a huge issue, as Ambassador Crocker noted. SIGAR’s March report cited this specifically, “High-Risk Area 4: Endemic Corruption.” The language could not be more plain and straightforward, “Corruption threatens all U.S. and international efforts in Afghanistan. Corruption particularly threatens developing a functional Afghan government and effective security forces to address the insurgency. Corruption not only erodes Afghans’ trust in their government, but also compromises the intended outcomes of development interventions, and undermines security by fueling insurgent and corrupt power structures.” Ambassador Crocker put this this way, our “biggest single project, sadly and inadvertently, of course, may have been the development of mass corruption,” calling the entire country a “kleptocracy.”
Somehow, however, this mass of corruption and overall lack of capability was charged with holding the country after we left and protecting our troops, embassy staff, other citizens, and allies as we withdrew. As late as July, Biden was praising the army and claiming they could hold the country. “No, it is not” inevitable that the Taliban will take over the country, “Because you have the Afghanistan troops — 300,000 well-equipped (troops), as well equipped as any army in the world, and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable.” He added, “The jury is still out. But the likelihood there’s going to be a Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.” How could the Commander in Chief possibly say this with all we knew from SIGAR, Ambassador Crocker, and The Washington Post, and others including even Julian Assange and WikiLeaks? Was he lying or misinformed?
There is at least some evidence he might have been lying. In a recently released phone call with the former President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, that occured on July 23, Biden said, “I need not tell you the perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things are not going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban.” Apparently, Biden felt the situation was dire that he asked President Ghani himself to lie, saying, “And there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.” Reuters reports that Biden was even willing to pay for these lies, “In the call, Biden offered aid if Ghani could publicly project he had a plan to control the spiraling situation in Afghanistan.” Biden would not make a public statement on the situation in Afghanistan until the Taliban collapsed, all the while it appeared he knew what was happening.
At this point, we cannot say for sure whether the President lied or was misled, nor does there seem to be much interest in finding out. Instead, President Biden insisted on Tuesday that we had the contingency plan for the airlift all along, “But I still instructed our national security team to prepare for every eventuality — even that one. And that’s what we did.” Incredibly, he claims that proof of this is his authorization for “6,000 troops — American troops — to Kabul to help secure the airport,” but if that’s true, this is some truly bizarre planning: We drew down to 600-700 troops operating under the assumption that the Afghan Army would hold, then we sent thousands of more troops back in when it became obvious they wouldn’t. If we were planning for every contingency, why not keep the troops there all along, until the end? Further, we didn’t even send the troops in all at once, at first it was 2,500, then another 5,000. To an outside observer, at least, it certainly doesn’t appear this was planned for as claimed.
These aren’t the only instances in just this single speech where Biden plays fast and loose with the truth. For example, he claimed that “by the time I came to office, the Taliban was in its strongest military position since 2001, controlling or contesting nearly half of the country.” Except, even as late as May 1, in the midst of the draw down and an announced date for the US to depart, they controlled 73 out 400 districts, about 18%. The Taliban has variously contested districts throughout the country for years now and the situation in 2009 had deteriorated so far, so fast that President Obama authorized a surge of tens of thousands of troops to stabilize the country. Keep in mind all this happened while Biden himself was Vice President. Then in 2016, while Biden was still Vice President, Bill Roggio, editor of The Long War Journal which tracked Taliban control said ““They probably either control or heavily influence about a half of the country.” They had been reclaiming territory since 2013, all while Obama and Biden were in office.
President Biden followed this with ridiculous exaggerations, claiming that he would have had to send “tens of thousands” of troops in Afghanistan to keep the country stable when there haven’t been tens of thousands of troops there in years and Biden surely knows this. As of December 28, 2014, there were 13,000 troops and we’ve drawn further down from there, all while Afghanistan had something resembling a government not controlled by the Taliban. Topping it all off, Biden claimed the August 31 withdrawal data wasn’t picked for political purposes, saying “Leaving August the 31st is not due to an arbitrary deadline; it was designed to save American lives.” He failed to mention the original date was September 11, the 20th anniversary of 9-11. Does anyone truly believe this plan to save lives just happened to coincide perfectly with the 20th anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan in the first place?
Ultimately, the long history of lies prompts one to question President Biden’s other claims, or at least the government’s ability to carry them out. Of particular interest is what happens now. Biden insists we will not leave anyone behind, even after the troops have left. “And for those remaining Americans, there is no deadline. We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out. Secretary of State Blinken is leading the continued diplomatic efforts to ensure a safe passage for any American, Afghan partner, or foreign national who wants to leave Afghanistan.” Even setting aside that they have no process or means to achieve this, there are Americans in Afghanistan right now begging to get out. In fact, one interpreter who helped rescue then-Senator Biden when he was stranded after a snowstorm, literally driving for hours into the mountains in a humvee to save him and other Senators, is stuck there with his family. “Hello Mr. President: Save me and my family,” Mohammed told The Wall Street Journal even as the last Americans were flying out of Kabul. “Don’t forget me here.”
To date, Biden has made not a single mention of his plight, or hundreds of others. Why should we believe them now? No, the lies didn’t start with Biden, but they certainly seem to have continued and nothing we’ve seen so far indicates even the slightest attempt to win back our trust.