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A Biden administration review faults Trump for the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

On August 30, 2021, the U.S. completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan. As U.S. aircraft lifted off of the tarmac in Kabul, desperate Afghans clung to the plane. More than 100 Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. service members were killed in a bombing, and the exit left a vacuum that the Taliban swiftly filled. Congress will receive a detailed review of what happened during the two weeks that ended the two-decades-long war. The public has a 12-page summary.

Here to talk about the findings from that report is White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Good morning.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So what does the Biden administration say about what went wrong?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, it doesn't say that much. I mean, the administration did acknowledge that they should have moved more quickly to get Americans and Afghans' allies out of Kabul. They also acknowledged that they didn't have the best intelligence about how quickly the Afghan national security forces would fold. But really, Leila, it places more blame on the previous administration for not planning a proper withdrawal.

I spoke with John Gans. He's a former Pentagon official who has written about White Houses during times of war, and he says it is true that Trump left them in a very bad situation in regards to Afghanistan, but that the report is also more of a positive take on the Biden administration and doesn't really shine much of a light on where it fell short.

JOHN GANS: It did not take an active security clearance to know that the Trump administration had made a complete hash of the U.S. government and its engagement with Afghanistan. It did not take an active security clearance to understand that the Afghan army was in difficult straits.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, but, of course, no president likes to talk about their failures, and Gans called it a bipartisan tradition.

FADEL: OK. If Biden felt rushed or unprepared, why didn't he keep troops there longer or send in more?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, the administration is really walking a fine line here. I mean, some top leaders testified to Congress soon after that they had recommended Biden keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. One general said pulling out troops would inevitably lead to the collapse of Afghan forces, which is obviously what happened. But in its report, the Biden administration argues that staying longer or sending more troops would not have changed their trajectory. And Biden has made clear, as we know, early on, that he was not going to hand off the war in Afghanistan to a fifth president.

FADEL: So it sounds like the plan was to leave no matter what. But this was an incredibly expensive war financially, but also in the loss of life and destruction of people's lives. And it feels like Afghanistan is back where it was. What did this war accomplish?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I mean, it's a really tough question, especially for a lot of veterans. You know, national security spokesman John Kirby was asked about this yesterday at the White House briefing, and he says Americans did not serve in vain. He talked about accomplishing the original mission and how objectives evolved.

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JOHN KIRBY: Just because the mission changed over time under previous administrations and leadership and scenarios doesn't mean that anybody who served in Afghanistan doesn't have something to be proud of, doesn't have service to this country that they can take with them the rest of their lives and feel honorable about it.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, and he emphasized that Biden and the first lady understand and respect their service.

FADEL: Now, this was America's longest war and this report was highly anticipated. Will it bring any closure?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, I don't know. I mean, House Republicans - probably not. House Republicans already started their own probe of the withdrawal. And it's going to be more critical than this. And, you know it's going to be an issue in the 2024 election.

FADEL: NPR's Franco Ordoñez, thank you.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.