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The surprisingly swift collapse of the Afghan military to Taliban forces last summer, which surprised combat experts, was mostly due to the withdrawal of America’s troops, a U.S. watchdog group said.
In a report made public Tuesday, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, said the withdrawal “destroyed” the morale of the Afghan forces and left them without vital air support in their struggle to keep Afghanistan from falling to the Taliban, Reuters reported.
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The report highlighted that the withdrawal of U.S. troops was a condition of an agreement made and signed by the Trump administration in February 2020 and later carried out by the Biden administration.
“SIGAR found that the single most important factor in the ANDSF’s (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces) collapse in August 2021 was the U.S. decision to withdraw military forces and contractors from Afghanistan through signing the U.S.-Taliban agreement in February 2020 under the Trump administration, followed by President Biden’s withdrawal announcement in April 2021,” the report said.
The withdrawal agreement also limited the use of airstrikes by the fleeting U.S. forces.
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“Limiting airstrikes after the signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement the following year left the ANDSF without a key advantage in keeping the Taliban at bay,” John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, said, according to the report.
“Many Afghans thought the U.S.-Taliban agreement was an act of bad faith and a signal that the U.S. was handing over Afghanistan to the enemy as it rushed to exit the country,” Sopko added.
The Afghan government surrendered to the Taliban after just over a week of fighting.
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At the time, President Biden defended the U.S. withdrawal, which brought an end to more than 20 years of American troops fighting in the country. The U.S. also reportedly spent over $80 billion in the war effort.
“Our military commanders advised me that once I made the decision to end the war, we needed to move swiftly to conduct the main elements of the drawdown. And in this context, speed is safety,” Biden said in July 2021, ahead of the August withdrawal.
Following Afghanistan’s surrender to the Taliban, Biden again defended his decision.
“One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country,” Biden said in August 2021.
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Biden was widely criticized over the withdrawal, and he deflected blame to President Trump.
“When I came to office, I inherited a deal cut by my predecessor—which he invited the Taliban to discuss at Camp David on the eve of 9/11 of 2019—that left the Taliban in the strongest position militarily since 2001 and imposed a May 1, 2021 deadline on U.S. forces,” Biden said during an Aug. 2021 speech. “Shortly before he left office, he also drew U.S. forces down to a bare minimum of 2,500.”
“Therefore, when I became President, I faced a choice—follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our forces and our allies’ forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict,” he said.