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Biden Rejected Pressure from Senior Military Officers with Decision To Withdraw from Afghanistan

Aug. 24 , 2021 (EIRNS)—When President Joe Biden made the decision on April 14 to withdraw the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops from Afghanistan, along with those of NATO, he was rejecting pressure from senior military officers, starting with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, to keep a residual military presence in the country. Politico reported later that same day that when Biden was weighing a complete withdrawal, top military leaders advocated for keeping a small U.S. presence on the ground, made up primarily of special operations forces and paramilitary advisers, arguing that a force of a few thousand troops was needed to keep the Taliban in check and prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a haven for terrorists. Milley, as well as the four-star commanders of U.S. Forces—Afghanistan, Central Command, and Special Operations Command, were emphatic proponents of this strategy, according to nine current and former officials who spoke to Politico on condition of anonymity. “But in the end,” Politico reported, “Biden and his top national security deputies did what no previous President has done successfully—they overrode the brass.”

The advice of the top brass was likely very close to that of the Afghanistan Study Group, a body set up by Congress in December 2019 tasked with identifying policy recommendations that “consider the implications of a peace settlement, or the failure to reach a settlement, on U.S. policy, resources, and commitments in Afghanistan.” The study group, co-chaired by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and hosted and supported by the U.S. Institute for Peace, issued its recommendations on Feb. 3, 2021. Its report concluded that “there is a real opportunity to align U.S. policies, actions, and messaging behind achieving a durable peace settlement to end four decades of violent conflict in Afghanistan.”

The most important revision of U.S. policy that the report recommended was “to ensure that a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops is based not on an inflexible timeline but on all parties fulfilling their commitments, including the Taliban making good on its promises to contain terrorist groups and reduce violence against the Afghan people, and making compromises to achieve a political settlement.” In other words, it was to be a “conditions-based” withdrawal. That was the advice that Biden rejected.

Leon Hadar, a former columnist for the Jerusalem Post and a long-time critic of U.S. policy in Southwest Asia, writing in The National Interest on Aug. 21 characterized the military pressure this way: “U.S. generals and their echo chamber in Washington were doing a repeat performance, trying to force the hands of another President by making it close to impossible for him to end the 20-year-long occupation of Afghanistan.”

“But by resisting pressure from those who counted on him to play ball, Biden demonstrated that he intended to fulfill the pledges he had made to the American people to withdraw from Afghanistan and end the endless wars,” Hadar writes later. “That is the most important takeaway here. A clear majority of the American people—Republicans and Democrats—supported leaving Afghanistan and Iraq. But their ability to impact the debate on this issue has been limited in the last 20 years.”

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