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Afghanistan conflict: Esper says he wanted to slow withdrawal until Taliban upheld peace agreement

Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper laid blame for the coup in Afghanistan on both President Biden and his former boss, President Trump.

Esper said that withdrawing from Afghanistan was the ‘right policy objective’ but the US should have compelled the Taliban to uphold its side of the peace agreement before leaving.

‘Just because negotiations began under the Trump administration does not ignore the fact that President Biden owns the situation implementation of his withdrawal,’ Esper told CNN on Tuesday.  

Trump signed a peace agreement with the Taliban in February 2020, a deal which Esper called ‘good enough.’

In that deal, the US had agreed to withdraw forces and release some 5,000 Taliban prisoners if the militant group agreed not to allow Afghanistan to be used by terror groups to attack the US or its allies.  

Esper said he implored Trump not to reduce the US troop presence further below 4,500 until the Taliban upheld its side of the deal. Last October, when Trump said he wanted to get troops out by Christmas, Esper wrote a formal letter recommending against the decision. The former president ultimately did not withdraw troops by Christmas. 

Trump ousted Esper weeks later in the aftermath of the 2020 election. 

Defense Sec. Mark Esper said he implored Trump not to reduce the US troop presence further below 4,500 until the Taliban upheld its side of the deal. Last October, when Trump said he wanted to get troops out by Christmas, Esper wrote a formal letter recommending against the decision

Esper said that withdrawing from Afghanistan was the 'right policy objective' but the US should have compelled the Taliban to uphold its side of the peace agreement before withdrawing

Esper said that withdrawing from Afghanistan was the ‘right policy objective’ but the US should have compelled the Taliban to uphold its side of the peace agreement before withdrawing

The former defense secretary disputed the Biden administration’s assertion that they were ‘bound’ to continue Trump’s plan. ‘They could have tried to go back to the table with the Taliban to negotiate. They could have demanded, as I have argued, they agree to conditions they established and that we use military power to compel them to do that.’

‘There were more options available to President Biden and his administration than simply continuing withdrawal of US forces and doing it in such a precipitous and poorly planned way that we now see this crisis.’ 

Both Trump’s peace deal and Biden’s handling of the withdrawal are under scrutiny after over the weekend Kabul fell to the Taliban and the Afghani government relinquished control, more quickly than US intelligence ever predicted.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Biden, who a week ago said there was still hope Kabul might not fall to the Taliban, was warned about the many risks of full-scale withdrawal from Afghanistan, but stayed firm in his decision because he believed U.S. was propping up an Afghan government on life support, which the president viewed as corrupt and blamed for wasting billions of dollars of U.S. aid.

Taliban fighters are pictured in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul, which sits along one of the main roads leading to the airport, carrying out checks on those that pass through

Taliban fighters are pictured in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul, which sits along one of the main roads leading to the airport, carrying out checks on those that pass through

The Taliban has insisted there will be total amnesty for those who fought against them in Afghanistan and that evacuation flights will be protected, but there have been reports of gunmen firing into crowds

The Taliban has insisted there will be total amnesty for those who fought against them in Afghanistan and that evacuation flights will be protected, but there have been reports of gunmen firing into crowds

A Taliban fighter whacks a boy across the back of the thighs as families cower under a bush

A Taliban fighter whacks a boy across the back of the thighs as families cower under a bush

Taliban gunmen opened fire on crowds late Tuesday, with images showing a bloodied child being carried by a man while a woman lay wounded in the road

Taliban gunmen opened fire on crowds late Tuesday, with images showing a bloodied child being carried by a man while a woman lay wounded in the road

Life under the ‘moderate’ Taliban 

The ‘moderate’ Taliban has already started tarring alleged thieves and strapping them to trucks to be paraded through Kabul, fired at crowds trying to escape to the US-controlled airport and is going house-to-house to round up looters.

The so-called ‘Angels of Salvation’ are dragging suspects from their homes at gunpoint and lining them against walls after chaos broke out in Kabul following the Taliban takeover.

Footage shows an alleged car thief with his face covered in black tar and strapped up to the back of a truck, with his hands tied behind his back as people gather around to gawp.

A traffic cop stands nearby and waves through traffic, seemingly unperturbed or unable to prevent the rough justice as commotion builds around the accused man. 

Other footage shows Taliban fighters outside Kabul airport wielding AK-47s and rocket launchers, marching towards the terrified crowds and firing warning shots into the air. 

Former civil servants and those who worked for foreign countries are prisoners in their own homes and living in fear as the Taliban go from house-to-house to interrogate people on who they are and what they do.  

An ex-interpreter reported seeing his house being raided via an app on his phone as he remains holed up in a safehouse. 

The jihadists have been dubbed ‘Taliban 2.0’ for their media charm offensive in trying to persuade the world that they have moderated compared to the Taliban of 20 years ago. 

 

Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley had argued that the U.S. should keep a small fighting force in the country. There were about 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan when Biden took over the drawdown from former President Donald Trump.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who previously served as military commander in the region, warned that a full withdrawal wouldn’t provide any insurance of stability.

Biden had argued that by reneging on the agreement Trump made with the Taliban, American forces and U.S. allies could be exposed to more violence. 

He and his advisers had hoped President Ashraf Ghani and the Afghan government would pull itself together once the U.S. laid out an exit date, the Journal said, however some military advisers warned that Ghani wasn’t up to the task.

Ghani has since fled the country, and many members of the Afghan security forces gave up with little fight as the Taliban moved in. 

‘The lowering of the U.S. flag over our embassy in Kabul, and the Taliban’s seizure of the presidential palace, mark a bitter end to America’s noble effort these last twenty years to help the Afghan people escape their tragic history,’ Esper wrote on Twitter on Sunday. 

‘The only way this conflict could have ended better was through a political agreement among Afghans that was conditions based, patient, and backed up by U.S. and allied militaries. We had this, but both presidents abandoned the process and stuck to an arbitrary timeline,’ he added.

‘By pressing for a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces, rather than leveraging that military muscle to compel Taliban compliance with the 2020 peace agreement, both presidents hastened the Afghan government’s collapse.’

Taliban fighters have formed a wall around the airport in Kabul and flights meant to be rescuing Western allies are taking off near-empty.

There are now thought to be around 50,000 people – mostly Afghans – gathered outside two entrances to Hamid Karzai airport, desperate to escape. 

America has so far evacuated around 2,000 people from Afghanistan out of a total of 22,000 they want to rescue – meaning there are around 20,000 to go, including US citizens and Afghans who have been granted visas.    

At least three people were killed Wednesday and more than a dozen injured after Taliban militants opened fire during the protests against the group in Jalalabad, two witnesses and a former police official told Reuters. 

Taliban gunmen have surrounded the airport (pictured) with gunshots fired over the heads of arriving passengers, with British forces admitting that evacuations are only taking place with their 'consent'

Taliban gunmen have surrounded the airport (pictured) with gunshots fired over the heads of arriving passengers, with British forces admitting that evacuations are only taking place with their ‘consent’



Read more at DailyMail.co.uk