Former President Trump condemned his successor’s handling of the crisis in Afghanistan on Friday, as the Taliban continued their lightning advance and U.S. personnel prepared to destroy documents and evacuate the embassy in Kabul.
‘Tragic mess in Afghanistan, a completely open and broken Border, Crime at record levels, oil prices through the roof, inflation rising, and taken advantage of by the entire world—DO YOU MISS ME YET?’ he said in a short emailed statement.
His administration negotiated the terms of a U.S. withdrawal in talks with the Taliban last year.
Now the speed of a Taliban advance has rattled officials three weeks ahead of President Biden’s August 31 deadline to bring all troops home.
Biden has repeatedly said he has no regrets about pushing ahead on the timetable.
But on Friday insurgents captured another four provincial capitals in southern Afghanistan as they encircle the capital Kabul.
The result is a growing humanitarian emergency and frantic efforts to evacuate western embassies.
Some 3000 U.S. troops are on the way to Kabul’s airport to assist a partial evacuation of the American embassy, as staff prepare to destroy documents, computers and sensitive data.
‘It’s normal procedure to destroy anything sensitive before getting out, but it suggests that things are much further along than the State Department is saying,’ said a former diplomat in contact with embassy staff.
Taliban fighters celebrate the capture of Kandahar, the economic hub of southern Afghanistan and the birthplace of their insurgency in the 1990s. They now control most of the south and the north of the country leaving the government increasingly besieged in Kabul and a central swath, stretching east and west
Taliban fighters stand guard inside the city of Ghazni, southwest of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Friday,as they kept up the rapid pace of their advance through the country
Pink areas show Taliban control while green represents territory held by the government as insurgents move through the country towards the capital Kabul
The State Department envoy to talks in Doha, Qatar, has asked the Taliban to spare the U.S. embassy if their fighters overrun the Afghan capital Kabul
Afghan fighters drive a vehicle captured from the Afghan National Army through the streets of Kandahar on Friday after capturing the key southern city. The Taliban completed their sweep of the country’s south, taking four more provincial capitals in a lightning offensive
Critics say this is President Biden’s Saigon moment – drawing comparisons with the chaotic, humiliating evacuation of the Saigon embassy in 1975 – and even allies have voiced anger at the way the U.S. withdrawal is being handled.
The U.K. has already closed its embassy and a skeleton staff is operating from a secret location, mostly trying to help its expat community leave.
NATO ambassadors were also meeting to discuss the rapidly deteriorating security situation and coordinate measures to reduce embassy staff in Kabul, according to Reuters.
It comes as 3000 U.S. troops were due to begin arriving at the city’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Officials took pains to avoid describing the operation as an evacuation as they announced that the State Department would reduce its civilian footprint of 4000 people to a ‘core diplomatic presence.’
‘Our embassy remains open and our diplomatic mission will endure,’ said State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Thursday.
The moves triggered fresh questions about whether Biden had been right to announce a complete withdrawal, 20 years U.S. forces and allies ousted the Taliban from Kabul.
Official insist they always had contingency plans to help American staff leave safely but critics said the result was chaos.
‘The latest news of a further drawdown at our embassy and a hasty deployment of military forces seem like preparations for the fall of Kabul,’ said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
‘President Biden’s decisions have us hurtling toward an even worse sequel to the humiliating fall of Saigon in 1975.’
Trump blasted the Biden administration’s handling of the Afghanistan crisis, calling it a ‘tragic mess.’ Biden has defended his decision to complete the withdrawal by the end of August, even as the Taliban continue their rapid advance through Afghanistan. On Thursday, he approved the decision to send back 3000 troops to protect the exit of civilian staff
The Taliban holds two thirds of Afghanistan’s districts and by Friday was in control of 17 provincial capitals, allowing them to close in on Kabul
A Taliban fighter holds a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) along the roadside in Herat, Afghanistan’s third biggest city, on Friday after the US announced it was sending 3,000 troops back into Afghanistan
A Taliban fighter stands guard over surrendered Afghan security members forces in the city of Ghazni, southwest of Kabul, on Friday
‘There’s no way you can tell the Afghan people the US is with them’: CBS reporter tears into State Department spokesman for trying to spin Biden’s Afghan pullout and bragging about ‘diplomacy’ during Taliban rampage
State Department spokesman Ned Price clashed with CBS News correspondent Christina Ruffini as he denied that Afghanistan was being abandoned as the embassy was evacuated. ‘What this is is a reduction in the size of our civilian footprint,’ he said
State Department spokesman Ned Price was hounded by reporters on Thursday as he tried to explain the Biden administration’s decision to evacuate much of its embassy personnel, at the same time touting ‘diplomacy’ advances with the Taliban.
Neither State nor Defense nor the White House have briefings scheduled for Friday, a day after the announcement.
‘This is not abandonment. This is not an evacuation,’ Price said numerous times throughout his briefing. ‘What this is is a reduction in the size of our civilian footprint.’
One reporter responded: ‘It appears to be a preparation for a full evacuation.’
‘That’s not true,’ said Price.
‘I respect you and we all know you have a job to do,’ CBS reporter Christina Ruffini said to Price.
‘But there is no way you can sit there and say that the people of Afghanistan watching the Taliban take over provinces, watching their country crumble are now going to watch American diplomats get on military planes and leave the country that that sends a signal that the U.S. is with them in the long haul diplomatically.’
As of Friday, half of the nation’s 34 provincial capitals had fallen under Taliban control, including the second and third larges cities after Kabul.
Price replied: ‘Look at what we’ve been doing. Look at the investment we have made in Afghanistan. Look at the investments … however you measure it
‘Whether it is humanitarian. Whether it’s political. Whether it’s diplomatic. Whether it is the security investments that we have made.’
The US has spent just under a trillion dollars fending off the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the past two decades, according to a Brown University estimate.
Amid fast-encroaching Taliban control in Afghanistan, the Biden administration for weeks asserted it would stay the course and continue to withdraw US troops by Aug. 31.
But on Thursday, the Department of State announced it would clear out non-essential embassy personnel, and would bring in 3,000 US troops to do so. Another 3500-4000 will be deployed to Kuwait on standby if the security situation worsens and 1,000 will be sent to Qatar to assist with Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs).
Last month Biden was asked by a reporter whether he saw parallels between the Afghan withdrawal and what happened in Vietnam, when evacuees had to board helicopters landing on the roof of the embassy.
‘None whatsoever,’ said the president, adding that the Taliban was not the same as the North Vietnamese army.
‘There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy … of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable.’
But Rep Mike Rogers, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the risk had escalated since then.
‘Weeks ago, President Biden promised the American people that we would not have a Saigon moment in Afghanistan,’ he said. ‘Now, we are watching President Biden’s Saigon moment unfold before us.
‘The turmoil happening in Afghanistan is a surprise to no one. Unfortunately, I believe the worst is yet to come.’
Trump officials insisted they had negotiated terms for an orderly withdrawal.
The Biden administration’s sending of over 3,000 American troops back into Afghanistan is a result of poor planning and poor leadership in attempting to execute an operation that had been set up for success by the Trump administration,’ said Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of state.
A day earlier it emerged that Biden’s envoy to stalled peace talks in Doha, Qatar, had asked the Taliban to spare the U.S. embassy if their forces overran Kabul.
The speed of the Taliban advance since Biden announced he was withdrawing all U.S. troops has surprised officials, as district after district and city after city fell with minimal resistance.
The economic centres of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second biggest city, and Lashkar Gah – the capital of the southern province of Helmand – were the latest to fall to the insurgency, prompting questions over how long the capital Kabul will hold out. Pictured: Taliban fighters in a vehicle along the roadside in Herat on Friday
The latest significant blow was the loss of Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, where American, British and other allied forces fought some of the bloodiest battles in the past 20 years.
Hundreds of Western troops during the course of the war died fighting to try to knock back the Taliban in the province and give Afghanistan’s central government and military a better chance to take hold.
The Taliban also claimed Kandahar, the country’s second biggest city and the movement’s spiritual home, and Herat, a city of about 600,000 people close to the Iranian border.
Their fighters are now within 50 miles of the capital, fuelling fears the U.S.-backed government could fall within weeks.
The United Nations says it has evidence of atrocities that may amount to war crimes amid reports that Taliban fighters have gone door to door demanding unmarried women wives and beheading Afghan security forces who surrender.
Even allies have questioned the way Washington has gone about leaving Afghanistan.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the Trump administration had forged a ‘rotten deal’ with the Taliban that risked allowing terrorists to return.
‘I’ve been pretty blunt about it publicly and that’s quite a rare thing when it comes to United States decisions, but strategically it causes a lot of problems and as an international community, it’s very difficult for what we’re seeing today,’ he told Sky News.
‘I’m absolutely worried that failed states are breeding grounds for [terrorists]. It’s why I felt this was not the right time or decision to make because al-Qaida will probably come back.’