Afghan conflict
April 24, 2021

President Biden's Afghanistan withdrawal strategy received an unexpected endorsement Friday, Politico reports.

James Baker III, who served as chief of staff to former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, as well as Reagan's treasury secretary and Bush's secretary of state, told his biographers Susan Glasser and Peter Baker (no relation) during a virtual event Friday that he supports Biden's plan to exit Afghanistan by or before Sept. 11, 2021 because "21 years is long enough." Baker, who Politico notes is considered an elder statesman in the GOP, said he's "always been one who felt that one sure way to doom a presidency is to commit to an endless conflict," adding that "you couldn't pick a tougher place to go and fight a land war" than Afghanistan.

Still, Politico writes, Baker's comments come as a bit of a surprise — Republican voters are mostly on board with the withdrawal, but GOP lawmakers have been more critical, especially those with more traditional GOP foreign policy views, like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Baker would seemingly fall under that umbrella, as well, given that he supported both invasions of Iraq, and often favored the U.S. taking on an active role in geopolitics while advising Bush on foreign policy.

At the same, he supported former President Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. On the surface, that would appear to be another reason why praise for Biden was unexpected, but Trump was similarly a proponent of leaving Afghanistan. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

April 21, 2021

President Biden's plan to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by or before Sept. 11, 2021, has its critics among Republicans in the halls of Congress, but Republican voters are mostly on board.

A Morning Consult poll released Wednesday found that the strategy is widely popular in the United States (overwhelmingly so among Democrats), and that 52 percent of Republican voters are in favor of it, compared to just 33 percent who oppose.

The reason, it seems, is pretty simple: Americans just want troops to come home safely after two decades of conflict. The major counterargument to Biden's decision is that the absence of U.S. forces will allow the Taliban to regain control over Afghanistan, which, in turn, would provide an opening for terrorist groups to re-establish themselves, presenting a threat to the U.S. and its allies, both at home and abroad. But that stance doesn't appear to be resonating with Americans.

The Morning Consult poll was conducted between April 16-19 among 1,992 registered voters. The margin of error is 2 percentage points. Read more at Morning Consult. Tim O'Donnell

April 14, 2021

President Biden on Wednesday revealed he spoke privately with former President George W. Bush about his decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by or before Sept. 11, 2021.

Biden didn't provide any specific details about the conversation, saying only that the two, despite various political differences, are "absolutely united" in their support for the men and women in the U.S. armed forces. But the revelation was still striking, considering Bush was the commander-in-chief who oversaw the initial invasion of Afghanistan just weeks after the 9/11 attacks.

White House Secretary Jen Psaki provided a little more context regarding the phone call, adding that Biden also spoke with his old running mate former President Barack Obama about the decision (there is no indication he spoke with his immediate predecessor, former President Donald Trump.) "While we are not going to read out private conversations, [Biden] values [Bush's and Obama's] opinions and wanted them both to hear directly from him about his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan," Psaki tweeted.

The conversation wasn't the only connection between the two presidents — Biden addressed the departure in front of the same "rarely used" White House backdrop that Bush used when he announced the first U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan nearly 20 years ago. Tim O'Donnell

April 14, 2021

On the record, Afghanistan's government appears to have accepted President Biden's decision to withdraw American troops from the country by or before Sept. 11, 2021. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Wednesday that he spoke with Biden and "respects" the decision, adding that the government's security forces are "fully capable" of defending the country in a post-U.S. era. But other reports are suggesting the decision stings.

"You cannot achieve a political settlement if you don't have a military presence," an Afghan government security official told The Wall Street Journal, referring to efforts to reach an agreement with the Taliban to end the country's decades-long conflict. "The only leverage the U.S. has over the Taliban is the presence of U.S. forces."

An Afghan official briefed on the specifics of Biden's withdrawal plan told The Washington Post the exit will "embolden" the Taliban. "It gives them a win, and neither the Afghan government or the Americans get anything in return," he said, though he did concede that the new timeline at least provides Kabul some "clarity" and a few extra months to prepare for the U.S. departure.

The Taliban, meanwhile, had expected the U.S. to stick to the May 1 withdrawal deadline agreed upon by the Trump administration, and the group has issued a warning to the Biden administration. If "foreign forces fail to exit our country on the specified date, problems will certainly be compounded and those [who] failed to comply with the agreement will be held liable," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted Wednesday, per the Post. On Tuesday, the Taliban said it would not participate in any peace negotiations until U.S. and other foreign forces are gone. Read more at The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

April 13, 2021

GOP lawmakers aren't thrilled that President Biden is reportedly expected to announce that a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan will take place by Sept. 11, 2021.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called it a "grave mistake," while Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said it's a "reckless and dangerous decision," arguing that while "no wants a forever war ... I've consistently said any withdrawal must be conditions-based." (A Biden official said Tuesday that the withdrawal won't be conditional.)

A few other Republican senators got their shots in, as well. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), for one, didn't hold back, describing a full withdrawal as "dumber than dirt." He maintained that at the very least a "residual counterterrorism" force should remain as an "insurance policy against [the] rise of radical Islam in Afghanistan." Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) questioned the target date, which doubles as the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. "I think a random withdrawal just because you're celebrating an anniversary is not the right decision," she said, per Fox News.

Not everyone was so harsh. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) left the door open, saying that "If we're ready to go, I'll be be supportive," but adding "If we're not ready to go, I'll be making that very clear." Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), on the other hand, simply said he's happy the troops are presumably "coming home."

Then there's Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who also isn't a huge fan of Biden's reported new strategy, except on the basis that it's too late. He urged the White House to stick to the May 1 deadline, which was set in an agreement between the Trump administration and the Taliban, though he did concede that it's "better late than never." Tim O'Donnell

April 12, 2021

The Taliban said Monday that it will not take part in a peace conference with the Afghan government slated for Friday in Istanbul. "Our current position is that we can't participate in the conference," the Islamic group's spokesman Mohammad Naeem told Bloomberg in a text message. He did add, however, that future participation is still "under our consideration."

The two sides were expected to reach a political agreement in Istanbul that would kick off efforts to end Afghanistan's 20-year conflict. Per Bloomberg, the government "has prepared a draft peace agreement that has been subsumed within the framework of the U.S. offer" to replace President Ashraf Ghani's government with an interim government (although Ghani is opposed to stepping down). An immediate cease-fire is reportedly included in the proposal.

The U.S. helped facilitate the United Nations-led event, hoping it would clear the way for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan ahead of a May 1 deadline set in a previous agreement with the Taliban. Delegates from the U.S., Russia, China, Iran, and Pakistan, were also scheduled to be at the conference, as well, Bloomberg notes. Read more at Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

March 21, 2021

In what The Associated Press described as a "sharply worded" letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani earlier this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for urgency in the government's peacemaking process with the Taliban ahead of a May 1 American troop withdrawal deadline that the Biden administration may wind up extending. On Sunday, however, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who made an unannounced visit to Kabul on his way back from India, appeared to strike a different tone while meeting with Ghani.

"I didn't ... convey a message to [Ghani]," Austin, who is the first Biden Cabinet member to visit Afghanistan, told reporters after the meeting. "Again, I really wanted to listen to him and to understand what his concerns were, see the landscape through his eyes. That's what we did. I really had a chance to hear from him. And it was very helpful to me."

Austin didn't provide any updates on whether the U.S. will adhere to the May 1 deadline, which was set in an agreement reached by the Trump administration and the Taliban, saying only that the decision will be up to President Biden.

Afghanistan's TOLO Television reported that Ghani and Austin expressed a shared concern over the increase in violence in Afghanistan and agreed a lasting peace in the country remains the goal for both the American and Afghan governments. Tim O'Donnell

November 22, 2020

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who previously served as President Trump's national security adviser, on Sunday called Trump's order to further reduce the number of American troops in Afghanistan by mid-January "abhorrent."

CBS News' Margaret Brennan asked McMaster if Trump was "handing the Taliban a victory on the way out the door." McMaster answered in the affirmative, adding that Trump has "paradoxically doubled down on all the flaws of the Obama administration's approach to Afghanistan." As McMaster sees it, if the Taliban establishes control over large parts of Afghanistan, they will offer "safe haven" for terrorist groups, making the U.S. "far less safe" and more vunerabe to attacks.

But the real issue, McMaster argues, is that the U.S. would be leaving after previously "empowering" the Taliban, citing the fact that U.S.-Taliban negotiations led to the Afghan government releasing 5,000 Taliban prisoners. "If we were gonna leave," he said. "Just leave." Tim O'Donnell

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