WASHINGTON — The White House released a report Thursday about the decisions made regarding the 2021 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, including the bombing at the Kabul airport that killed 13 U.S. service members.
The 12-page report by the National Security Council summarizes the administration's assessment of the withdrawal and largely blames former President Donald Trump's administration for the chaos that unfolded as U.S. troops were leaving and as Americans and Afghans evacuated from the country. The Taliban took over the government and have remained in power.
"President Biden’s choices for how to execute a withdrawal from Afghanistan were severely constrained by conditions created by his predecessor," the report said.
Similar reports on the withdrawal — prepared by the Defense Department and the State Department with classified material — are being shared with lawmakers on Capitol Hill following requests from congressional committees, officials said Thursday.
When Trump took office in 2017, more than 10,000 U.S. troops remained in Afghanistan, the report said, and he continued to order drawdowns over his final year in office, bringing the total down to about 2,500.
But the Trump administration "provided no plans for how to conduct the final withdrawal or to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies," the White House said. "President Biden had committed to ending the war in Afghanistan, but when he came into office he was confronted with difficult realities left to him by the Trump Administration."
The White House said the lack of communication from the Trump administration underscores why effective coordination for the transition process is critical, "especially when it comes to complex military operations," the summary says. Fueled by Trump's false claims that he had been denied re-election by rampant fraud, his administration largely refused to conduct traditional transition communications ahead of Biden's taking office.
Biden and his team were "well aware of the challenges posed by withdrawing from a warzone" after 20 years, the White House said, and while the Trump administration left a target date to leave Afghanistan, it provided "no plan for executing it."
Trump responded in a post on Truth Social, saying the Biden administration is trying to blame him "for their grossly incompetent SURRENDER in Afghanistan."
"Biden is responsible, no one else!" Trump added.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby highlighted some of the report's findings Thursday and said no U.S. agency had predicted the Afghan government's rapid collapse and the Taliban's takeover.
"No agency predicted a Taliban takeover in nine days," Kirby told reporters at the White House news briefing. "No agency predicted the rapid fleeing of President [Ashraf] Ghani, who had indicated to us his intent to remain in Afghanistan up until he departed on the 15th of August, and no agency predicted that the more than 300,000 trained and equipped Afghan National Security Defense Forces would fail to fight for their country, especially after 20 years of American support."
Many critics of the withdrawal — including lawmakers from both parties — faulted the Biden administration for how it handled the pullout.
As early as April 2021, veterans groups, refugee advocates and members of Congress were appealing privately and publicly to the Biden administration to begin flying out Afghans who worked for the U.S. military or embassy, arguing that a large number of Afghan partners would face persecution and even death at the hands of the Taliban. Some groups suggested that the U.S. fly the Afghans to the U.S. territory of Guam and process their paperwork there.
Although more than 70,000 Afghans were evacuated as the last U.S. troops departed, tens of thousands of Afghans — who had applied for U.S. visas under a program designed for those who had worked for the U.S. government — were left behind, according to refugee advocates.
In the public report released Thursday, the Biden administration accused the Trump administration of leaving the visa program for Afghans in bad shape, saying that "disregard and even hostility toward our commitment to Afghan allies led to a massive backlog of over 18,000 SIV applicants."
Although the report argued that the Biden administration did the best it could under the circumstances, the document also said the administration is placing a higher priority on launching evacuations of U.S. personnel earlier. “We now prioritize earlier evacuations when faced with a degrading security situation. We did so in both Ethiopia and Ukraine,” the report said.
The report also delved into the debate over whether to fully withdraw all troops.
A month after the withdrawal was complete, top military leaders testified before Congress that they had recommended to Biden that the U.S. keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan even after the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline. Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, who oversaw the withdrawal as head of U.S. Central Command, said he had held the view that a withdrawal of forces would “inevitably” lead to the collapse of the Afghan forces and government.
The summary report said Biden pressed intelligence officials about whether it was feasible to maintain 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but it noted that military advisers told him that would have required sending more troops into harm's way.
"There were no signs that more time, more funds, or more Americans at risk in Afghanistan would have yielded a fundamentally different trajectory," the report said. "Indeed, the speed with which the Taliban took over the country showed why maintaining 2,500 troops would not have sustained a stable and peaceful Afghanistan."
The new House Republican majority is investigating the withdrawal. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, issued a subpoena late last month to the State Department for a July 2021 cable from U.S. diplomats that warned of Kabul’s potential collapse.
McCaul on Thursday extended the deadline for the State Department to submit the document to April 19.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement Thursday that the administration's evaluation of the withdrawal focused on decisions, constraints and assumptions made to "learn, improve, and incorporate lessons learned into our response to future crises."
"The Department is committed to working with Congress and our partners across government to continue identifying the lessons learned from this process and turning them into meaningful action," he said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a separate statement that the State Department's review "provided detailed recommendations that we are already taking steps to implement," adding, "These include strengthening the Department’s overall contingency planning, crisis preparedness, and response capabilities."