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Opinion Biden’s exit from Afghanistan has been very Trumpy

Afghan contractors, working for Italian soldiers of NATO's Resolute Support Mission, hold placards during a protest and demand security after the withdrawal of Italian soldiers from Camp Arena, outside the Independent Human Rights Commission, in Herat, Afghanistan, on June 9. (Jalil Rezayee/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
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In Europe, President Biden is being lauded as the anti-Trump. But in his first major foreign policy decision as president — the pullout from Afghanistan — he acted in a very Trumpy fashion. Which is to say, he made an impetuous, ideological decision without adequate planning or preparation. The more we know, the worse it looks.

To recap how we got here: Then-President Donald Trump signed the worst deal of the century with the Taliban in 2020. The United States agreed to pull all of its troops out of Afghanistan within 14 months and to force the Afghan government to release thousands of Taliban prisoners. One of the few promises the Taliban made in return — “not to cooperate with groups or individuals threatening the security of the United States and its allies” — has already been violated. The United Nations reports that the Taliban remains “closely aligned” with al-Qaeda.

Because the Taliban is not fulfilling its side of the bargain, Biden should have kept the 2,500 to 3,500 U.S. troops who serve as invaluable advisers for Afghan forces. Instead, Biden announced on April 14 a withdrawal to be completed by Sept. 11. The clumsy symbolism — rewarding al-Qaeda’s allies on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — recalled Trump’s harebrained plan to meet with Taliban leaders around Sept. 11, 2019.

Military leaders urged Biden to leave a few thousand U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Biden ignored them — just as Trump so often ignored expert advice. The Post reports Biden spoke only once with the top U.S. commander in Kabul via a video feed before announcing a pullout. He hardly consulted with allies either, forcing them to pull their own troops because they couldn’t stay without us.

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No agreement was negotiated beforehand with either Pakistan or one of Afghanistan’s neighbors in Central Asia to base U.S. aircraft. Flying drones or manned aircraft from the Persian Gulf region will be costly and risky and leave little loiter time over Afghanistan. As a result, the New York Times reports, the CIA is left with “few good options” to “gather intelligence and carry out counterterrorism strikes.”

The situation is especially dire because the Biden administration appears intent on forcing the withdrawal of U.S. contractors who keep Afghan military aircraft flying. “Without the contractors’ help,” NBC News reports, “Afghan forces will no longer be able to keep dozens of fighter planes, cargo aircraft, U.S.-made helicopters and drones flying for more than a few more months, according to military experts and a recent Defense Department inspector general’s report.” If Afghan forces are denied air cover — which they have come to rely upon — the risk of a Taliban victory increases exponentially.

The Pentagon is so worried, according to the New York Times, that it is “considering seeking authorization to carry out airstrikes to support Afghan security forces if Kabul or another major city is in danger of falling.” This is the counsel of despair — and it probably won’t work. If the Taliban is about to march into Kabul, it won’t be stopped by a few U.S. bombs dropped by aircraft operating from distant air bases or aircraft carriers.

Australia has already closed its embassy in Kabul. This could set off a chain reaction among other Western embassies fearful that, once foreign troops depart, Kabul’s international airport will no longer be safe. The Biden administration apparently hoped Turkish troops would stay behind to guard the airport, but the Taliban is insisting the Turks leave, too.

U.S. military and intelligence planners are acting under the assumption that the fall of the pro-Western government is likely. Western intelligence agencies are reportedly expressing interest in a rebirth of the Northern Alliance, possibly led by the son of the legendary guerrilla commander Ahmed Shad Massoud. That means betting on the weaker side in an Afghan civil war — led by notorious warlords — rather than continuing to support the democratically elected government in power.

Most shameful of all, the Biden administration has made no provision to evacuate all of the interpreters and other Afghans who risked their lives to help U.S. troops — and who will surely be murdered by the Taliban. With U.S. forces set to depart well ahead of the September deadline, time is running out to save those who helped us.

Some 18,000 applications from Afghans who applied for Special Immigrant Visas remain to be processed. But the U.S. Embassy in Kabul just announced that it is suspending all visa operations because of the covid-19 pandemic, even though all U.S. diplomats have access to vaccines. Elliot Ackerman, a former Marine officer who served in Afghanistan, wrote in the Atlantic that the administration’s callous disregard of the interpreters and their families makes a mockery of the military’s “no one left behind” ethos.

Watching the chaotic, humiliating scuttle from Afghanistan, I find it hard to argue with the assessment of one of Washington’s wise men. Leon Panetta, who served as CIA director and defense secretary under President Barack Obama, said recently: “Frankly, right now, the appearance of it is that since we didn’t have a plan, we basically have said, ‘To hell with Afghanistan.’”

It pains me to say this as a Biden voter — but Trump couldn’t have done any worse.

Read more:

Read a letter in response to this piece: The United States should give visas to Afghan interpreters

The Post’s View: Biden takes the easy way out of Afghanistan. The likely result is disaster.

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