President Joe Biden revealed in a new interview that he still would have sought to pull American forces out of Afghanistan even if former President Donald Trump had not struck a deal with the Taliban last year that paved the way for an eventual U.S. troop withdrawal.
“I would have tried to figure out how to withdraw those troops, yes,” Biden told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in an interview conducted Wednesday. Segments of the interview aired Wednesday on ABC’s “World News Tonight” and Thursday on “Good Morning America.”
The president’s acknowledgment comes after he and top aides have argued the White House’s hands were tied by the Trump-era agreement — brokered last February in Doha, Qatar — saying it forced Biden to follow through on a full-scale Afghanistan withdrawal in his opening months in office.
The Doha agreement called for a gradual drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with a total withdrawal set to be completed by May 1 of this year. One of the deal’s conditions was that the Taliban would halt attacks on American and coalition forces in the meantime.
But Biden has repeatedly said that maintaining a U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan beyond the Doha agreement’s May 1 deadline would have necessitated the deployment of additional American forces to stave off inevitable conflict with the Taliban.
“Less than two months after I was elected to office — I was sworn in — all of a sudden, I have a May 1 deadline. I have a May 1 deadline,” Biden told ABC. “I have one of two choices. Do I say we’re staying? And do you think we would not have to put a hell of a lot more troops [in Afghanistan]?”
Biden put forth the same line of reasoning in a White House address Monday defending his decision on Afghanistan. “The choice I had to make, as your President, was either to follow through on that agreement or be prepared to go back to fighting the Taliban in the middle of the spring fighting season,” he said.
But Biden’s latest statement that he would have pursued a pullout of U.S. troops regardless of Trump’s negotiations with the Taliban complicates the current administration’s argument for its own withdrawal order.
Biden has come under intense scrutiny for the execution of the American departure from Afghanistan. Bipartisan criticism has ramped up significantly over the past several days — amid scenes of chaos at the international airport in Kabul — as both Democrats and Republicans contend the administration was unprepared to safely evacuate American citizens and Afghan allies out of the country, which is now under Taliban control.
Biden and administration officials conceded this week that they were surprised by the speed of the Taliban’s rapid offensive across Afghanistan, which culminated in the toppling of its capital city and the collapse of the Western-backed Afghan government.
But Biden asserted to ABC that there was no scenario in which an American withdrawal from Afghanistan would not have resulted in significant disorder after two decades of a U.S. troop presence there.
“No, I don’t think it could have been handled in a way that — we’re going to go back in hindsight and look, but the idea that somehow there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens,” Biden said.
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