Joe Biden’s aides were ‘too afraid’ to quiz him and his National Security Adviser over key decisions made in the run-up to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, according to sources close to the US administration.
The President is accused of insisting on recalling US troops ahead of the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington DC, and allegedly ignored warnings that it would not leave the military enough time to get American nationals and allies out.
A former defence official in regular contact with senior White House aides suggested that there was not much pushback from concerned administration staffers because they were ‘too afraid’ of challenging Mr Biden and his National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan.
The Sunday Telegraph reports that Biden administration officials urged the President – unsuccessfully – to keep open Bagram Air Base, which has more runways than Kabul airport and has been the heart of US operations in Afghanistan during the 20-year intervention.
The official claimed that the Biden administration functions ‘like an autocracy’ and stifles internal dissent, adding: ‘It’s one thing to crack down on leaks, it’s another thing to allow a mistake like this.
‘This White House is very disciplined, especially when it comes to leaks and such. But the downside of discipline is if you’re running things like an autocracy, and you broker no dissent internally, that’s not what the purpose of a White House staff is.’
It is understood that the State Department is now pushing the White House to extend the August 31 withdrawal deadline, even if it means striking a new deal with the resurgent Taliban.
Going into September with a large contingent of US troops still in Afghanistan could be politically damaging for Mr Biden, who campaigned last year on a promise to end America’s ‘forever wars’ and is likely to be keeping an eye on the midterm elections next year.
Critics claim Mr Biden’s narrow pursuit of US interests has left him increasingly isolated abroad, with former British premier Tony Blair calling the decision to withdraw ‘imbecilic’.
Relations between Britain and US are strained, with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace warning ‘no nation will be able to get everyone out’ of Afghanistan as Mr Biden’s August 31 date makes the mission even more time-pressured, in what is likely to be seen as a plea to Washington.
Cabinet insiders have suggested the President was ‘gaga’ and ‘doolally’ for withdrawing so quickly, while the Prime Minister has allegedly privately referred to Mr Biden as ‘Sleepy Joe’, the nickname coined by Donald Trump. Boris Johnson also allegedly remarked Britain ‘would be better off with Trump’ – allegations branded ‘categorically untrue’ by Downing Street.
Joe Biden’s aides were ‘too afraid ‘ to quiz him and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan over key decisions made in the run-up to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, according to sources close to the US administration
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the evacuation of American citizens and vulnerable Afghans, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Friday, August 20, 2021
Taliban fighters patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan
Pakistan’s soldiers check the documents of Afghan and Pakistani nationals for crossing into Afghanistan at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing point in Chaman on August 22, 2021
Jake Sullivan: Biden national security adviser who helped negotiate Iran nuclear deal for Barack Obama in secret
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan
President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, was a senior policy advisor to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential election campaign and her deputy chief of staff at the Department of State when she was Secretary of State.
Mr Sullivan was also a senior advisor to the Obama administration for the Iran nuclear negotiations, which began in secret throughout 2013.
He and US officials including Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, Senior White House Iran Advisor Puneet Talwar had met with the Iranian regime at least five times faece-to-face in Oman over the prospect of an agreement over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Those efforts paved the way for the Joint Comprehensive, which critics say created the conditions in which Iran could develop nuclear weapons after the deal expired.
Republicans also say the deal did nothing to contain Iranian terrorism in the Middle East, its ballistic missile programme, the regime’s policy towards Israel or its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine and President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
The President is under immense domestic and international criticism for his management of the crisis in Afghanistan. In a speech given from the White House on Monday, Mr Biden blamed his predecessor Donald Trump and the Afghan Army for the Taliban’s astonishing seizure of Kabul – and seemingly refusing to accept responsibility himself.
He has spent just four of the last 15 days at the White House and on Saturday was forced to cancel plans to return to his beachfront home in Delaware for the weekend.
General David Petraeus, the former CIA director who led US and Allied forces in Afghanistan under Barack Obama, told the Sunday Telegraph that Mr Biden was wrong to deflect blame onto the Afghan Army.
Mr Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, who negotiated the US withdrawal deal with the Taliban, accused the President of giving the US military away to the Islamists as he appeared at a rally for thousands of supporters in Cullman, Alabama.
‘This will go down as one of the greatest military defeats of all time,’ Mr Trump said. He called the situation in Afghanistan a humiliation, claiming it’s not a withdrawal but rather ‘a total surrender’.
The former President told the massive crowd gathered in the deep red state that ‘this would have never happened if I was president.’ He said: ‘The issue here is not whether to leave Afghanistan, the issue is Joe Biden’s staggering incompetence and gross negligence … creating the greatest strategic humiliation that we’ve ever seen as a country.
‘With me in office the Taliban would not have ever dreamt of capturing our airfield or parading around with our American weapons. There would have been no emergency embassy evacuation and no taking down of our flag. Because we would have established clear lines that the Taliban would never have dared to cross.
‘The problem with Biden is that our enemies are not afraid of him, they don’t respect him.’
Marc Thiessen, speechwriter under George W Bush, said on Friday that Mr Biden’s team of ‘sychophants’ had enabled him to move forward with the bungled Afghanistan withdrawal and questioned ‘where are the adults in the room?’
‘When President Donald Trump was in office, the media were always celebrating the ‘adults in the room’ – the presidential advisers who restrained Trump from following through on his worst instincts,’ Thiessen wrote.
He noted that the former president sometimes invited those who disagreed with him into his inner circle, like HR McMaster and John Bolton, both national security advisers under Trump.
‘When his generals warned him of disastrous consequences, he modified his plans,’ Thiessen said of Trump. The former president had wanted to pull all US forces out of Syria, but left 900. He’d wanted to withdraw from Afghanistan, but left 2,500 troops.
‘Far from a team of rivals, Biden has surrounded himself with a team of sycophants and enablers who share his worst instincts,’ Mr Thiessen wrote in the Washington Post. ‘Where are the adults in the room today? Nowhere to be found.’
He noted that Mr Biden told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Wednesday no one had recommended to him he leave a residual force of 2,500 in Afghanistan, ‘that I can recall.’
Mr Thiessen laid blame squarely on Secretary of State Antony Blinken, calling to mind late Senator John McCain’s warnings about the secretary.
‘Blinken is an ideologue who has been working toward a full Afghanistan withdrawal since he joined the Obama administration in 2009. Ditto for national security adviser Jake Sullivan,’ the speechwriter claimed. ‘But others such as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark A. Milley knew better.’
Mr Milley claimed on Thursday: ‘There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days’.
In a 2014 speech on the Senate floor, Mr McCain warned that Mr Blinken, then up for the deputy secretary of state role, would be ‘dangerous to America and to the young men and women who are fighting and serving our country.’
President Biden speaks during a meeting with his Cabinet in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, July 20, 2021
Marc Thiessen, speechwriter under George W Bush, laid blame squarely on Secretary of State Antony Blinken, calling to mind late Senator John McCain’s warnings about the secretary. Mr Sullivan has defended the Biden administration’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal
‘We will see the same movie in Afghanistan that we saw in Iraq,’ adding that ‘we must leave a stabilizing force behind of a few thousand troops,’ Mr McCain warned at the time.
Mr Thiessen was chief speechwriter for former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld beginning in 2001, when the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, before joining Mr Bush’s speechwriting team in 2004.
On Friday the Wall Street Journal reported that State Department officials in Kabul had warned the Biden administration that the Afghan capital would fall. A dozen diplomats sent a confidential memo in a dissent channel to Mr Blinken on July 13 that the Taliban was rapidly gaining ground and the city was vulnerable to collapse.
On July 8, Mr Biden said it was ‘highly unlikely’ the Taliban would take control of Afghanistan and denied there would be chaos in Kabul. But then on Wednesday this week, the President said there was ‘no way’ to leave Afghanistan without chaos ensuing.
Afghan security forces were collapsing, the diplomats said in the memo, and offered ways to mitigate the advancing insurgents. But it may have been too late to stop them.
The State Department memo, according to the report, also called for the government to use tougher language on the violence in the past from the Taliban and urged them to start collecting information for Afghan allies who qualified for Special Immigrant Visas after working with US forces.
The Journal reported that 23 Embassy staffers signed the cable and rushed to deliver it considering the deteriorating situation in Kabul. Mr Blinken reviewed the cable, a personal familiar with it told the paper.