The intelligence community did not predict Afghanistan would fall as quickly as it did, President Joe Biden told ABC News in an interview in which he also rejected reporting that some military leaders asked him to keep some troops there.
“The intelligence community did not say, back in June or July, that in fact this was going to collapse like it did,” Biden told George Stephanopoulos in an interview that aired on Good Morning America Thursday.
Biden was told the Taliban would take over, just not at the lightning speed with which it happened.
“Not even close,” Biden said.
His remarks echoed those Wednesday of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, who told reporters nobody predicted the Afghan government and army would collapse in 11 days. Milley said intelligence indicated it could take weeks, months or years for such a collapse after the U.S. military departed from a country where it has been at war for two decades.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that Milley was among the top generals who urged Biden to keep about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.
“That wasn’t true,” Biden said. “No one said that to me that I can recall.”
In a July news conference, Biden had rejected the idea that a Taliban takeover was inevitable.
“No, it is not,” he said.
Hadn’t his own intelligence community made that conclusion?
“That is not true,” he said.
During the ABC interview that aired Thursday, Biden said the idea that the Taliban would take over was premised on the notion that the Afghan army — which was larger and much better equipped than the Taliban — would collapse.
“I don’t think anybody anticipated that,” Biden said.
But the subject of how long Afghan forces could fend off the Taliban came up repeatedly during U.S. military meetings as far back as 2007 and even 2001, according to Mike Jason, who retired in 2019 as a U.S. Army colonel after 24 years commanding combat units in Afghanistan, Iraq, Germany, Kosovo and Kuwait.
Each time, the consensus was that the Afghan army would fall immediately after the withdrawal of U.S. forces — if not sooner.
Congressional hearings planned
The Senate Intelligence Committee is working with Democrats and Republicans on the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees to coordinate a series of planned investigative hearings into actions taken by the White House, Pentagon, State Department and intelligence agencies.
Some current and former U.S. national security officials contend there were no such illusions about whether Afghan troops could withstand pressure from the Taliban without U.S. support. They cited U.S. military intelligence assessments from June that concluded that the Taliban could overrun government forces within 90 days, or as soon as 30 days.
Biden inherited the troop size of 2,500 from his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, who negotiated a withdrawal timetable with the Taliban. The militant group promised to sever ties with al-Qaida and end attacks on American forces.
Biden said the Taliban would not have stayed on the sidelines if troops remained. That left him with the options of either withdrawing all troops or sending back many more soldiers to fight the Taliban.
“The basic choice is,” he said, “am I going to send your sons and your daughters to war in Afghanistan in perpetuity?”
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