The Daily Telegraph

Biden refused to listen to his cabinet over Afghan retreat

President was advised to slow down withdrawal of US troops but he wanted to avoid ‘mission creep’

- By Nick Allen in Washington

JOE BIDEN’S leading cabinet members unsuccessf­ully tried to dissuade him from pulling all US troops out of Afghanista­n, it has emerged.

Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, and Lloyd Austin, the defence secretary, pushed Mr Biden to conduct a slower withdrawal, according to Peril,a forthcomin­g book by journalist Bob Woodward.

Mr Blinken had previously staunchly backed Mr Biden’s plan to end the 20-year war. But, according to the book, his view changed after he met Nato allies in March.

He was said to have telephoned the president from Brussels, telling him he was hearing from Nato allies “in quadraphon­ic sound” that the US should use its withdrawal to make progress on a political pact between the Taliban and Afghan government.

In the book, Mr Woodward writes: “Previously, he [Mr Blinken] had been four-square with Biden for a full withdrawal. His new recommenda­tion was to extend the mission with US troops for a while to see if it could yield a political settlement; buy time for negotiatio­ns.”

However, Mr Biden was said to have been determined to avoid “mission creep”. He reportedly told a national security meeting the mission was “not to deliver a death blow to the Taliban”.

Mr Biden reportedly felt generals had forced former president Barack Obama to keep troops in Afghanista­n, but would not do so under his watch.

The withdrawal descended into chaos as the Western-backed Afghan government and army collapsed in days and the Taliban took power.

Yesterday, the BBC reported that rival Taliban factions brawled at the presidenti­al palace last week over how to split power, and over whether its diplomats or army commanders had been responsibl­e for the group’s success.

Taliban sources told the BBC that

Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban cofounder, had clashed with Khalil urrahman Haqqani, the minister for refugees and a prominent figure within the movement’s Haqqani clan.

Accounts of the row emerged after Mr Baradar was not seen in public for several days, leading to speculatio­n he had been injured in the incident.

He released a short audio clip on Monday rejecting accusation­s of any problems and saying he had been “out on a trip during these days”.

“There are no issues, no problems, praises to God. I am assuring you 100 per cent,” he added.

The Taliban have formally denied any disagreeme­nts and said Mr Baradar had travelled to the southern city of Kandahar.

The row is said to have broken out because Mr Baradar was unhappy about

‘Previously, Blinken had been with Biden for a full withdrawal. His new advice was to extend the mission’

the structure of the Taliban interim government. As a co-founder of the movement and the public face of the negotiatin­g team that worked on the deal to withdraw US troops, he was widely tipped to take day-to-day leadership of the new government. Instead, he was made deputy prime minister.

The book also portrayed Mr Biden as a reluctant president. In 2019 he was said to have told Ron Klain, his future White House chief of staff: “I just feel like I have to do this. This guy [Donald Trump] just isn’t really an American president.”

Mr Biden was said to be “not comfortabl­e” in the White House and to have referred to it as “the tomb”.

When he arrived, he reportedly found Mr Trump’s golf simulator still there and said “What a f------ a------”.

The book also revealed Mr Biden’s reaction when he stumbled repeatedly walking up the steps to Air Force One in March. Once on board, Mr Biden reportedly whispered: “F---. f---!”

Among the many unforeseen consequenc­es of the West’s abandonmen­t of Afghanista­n is the disastrous impact it could have on peace efforts in the Middle East.

This week marks the first anniversar­y of the signing of the Abraham Accords on the White House lawn, the Trump administra­tion’s groundbrea­king deal that led to a clutch of Arab states agreeing to establish diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. After the initial ceremony, which saw the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates sign the deal with the then Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in front of a beaming Donald Trump, Morocco and Sudan also agreed peace terms.

Prior to the Trump initiative, which was overseen by Jared Kushner, the former president’s son-in-law, only two Arab states, Egypt and Jordan, had ties with Israel. So the addition of four more Arab states to the list of friendly nations – together with the prospect of other countries, such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, establishi­ng diplomatic relations – presented a rare moment of optimism in the otherwise thankless task of Middle East diplomacy.

The Accords, moreover, have resulted in tangible improvemen­ts in the relationsh­ip between Israel and the Arab world. New embassies have been establishe­d, trading links are on the increase, and the daily flights between Israel and the Gulf states have seen thousands of Israelis holidaying at resorts in Bahrain and the Emirates.

These are, by any standard, significan­t achievemen­ts that represent a refreshing break with the decades of hostility that previously existed. But the prospect of further advances risks being undermined by the fallout from the Taliban’s dramatic takeover of Afghanista­n last month following US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US forces.

It is not just the damage the Afghan fiasco has inflicted on the credibilit­y of the US and its allies to act as honest brokers in helping to resolve the region’s many challenges. Pro-western Arab leaders will be far less likely to place their trust in US pledges of support in the wake of the Biden administra­tion’s wanton betrayal of the Afghan people.

The bigger threat, though, to further progress in improving Arab-israeli relations comes from the stunning success the Islamist leaders of the Taliban have achieved in seizing control of the country after more than two decades of bitter conflict. Despite facing the combined might of the US and its allies, the Taliban ultimately defeated a country that remains the world’s pre-eminent military superpower, and are now in the process of forming a new government that will include a number of militants who are widely regarded as terrorists in the West.

The Taliban’s re-emergence as the dominant power in Afghanista­n is a classic tale of triumph over adversity. It is one that will lend enormous encouragem­ent to other Islamist groups – such as the radical Palestinia­n Hamas movement and the Iranianbac­ked Hizbollah militia – that they will ultimately achieve their own goals, no matter how great the opposition they may encounter.

Foremost in their calculatio­ns will be the realisatio­n that, under Mr Biden’s leadership, Washington has little interest in defending its erstwhile allies in the region. The assumption, moreover, that the Biden administra­tion can no longer be relied on to confront hostile regimes will only deepen if, as seems increasing­ly likely, the White House compounds its miserable failure in Afghanista­n by agreeing another questionab­le nuclear deal with Tehran.

Mr Biden’s renunciati­on of America’s long-standing leadership role in the Middle East has, unsurprisi­ngly, provoked an angry response from some of the signatorie­s to the Abraham Accords.

Senior Gulf officials privately speak of their deep sense of betrayal over Washington’s shameful treatment of Afghanista­n, to the extent that they feel they must look elsewhere for allies, with Russia and China the most likely targets of any new Arab charm offensive.

The demise of American influence in the region might also provide important opportunit­ies for Britain as it seeks to establish its post-brexit global standing. Even though the UK must share some of the blame for the catastroph­e unfolding in Afghanista­n, it did raise objections to Mr Biden’s withdrawal strategy, which were ultimately ignored.

And, as this week’s visit to London by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi’s influentia­l crown prince, demonstrat­es, Britain enjoys a more nuanced relationsh­ip with its allies in the Gulf – one that is based on mutual respect rather than the hectoring tone often used by officials in the Biden administra­tion.

Sheikh Mohammed’s visit, which includes today’s talks with Boris Johnson at Downing Street, is likely to provide a significan­t boost for trade ties, particular­ly in the field of green energy. It shows that, even after the Afghan disaster, it will still be possible to navigate a positive path out of the wreckage of Mr Biden’s disastrous foreign policy.

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