In the last phone call between Joe Biden and his Afghan counterpart the American president said they needed to change perceptions of the Taliban’s rapid advance ‘whether it is true or not,’ according to excerpts published on Tuesday.
Four weeks before Kabul collapsed, President Ashraf Ghani pleaded for more air support and money for soldiers who had not had a pay rise in a decade.
A transcript obtained by Reuters reveals two leaders oblivious to the impending disaster and an American president focused on spinning the message.
‘I need not tell you the perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things are not going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban,’ Biden said.
‘And there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.’
The Taliban were already capturing district after district across the country, while the U.S. and Afghanistan were at loggerheads over tactics.
President Joe Biden spoke with President Ashraf Ghani for about 14 minutes on July 23. It was their last conversation before the Taliban captured the capital. Biden told Ghani he had a perception problem and said, ‘There is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture’
Refugees are led through the departure terminal to a bus at Dulles International Airport after being evacuated from Kabul following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan
aliban members gather and make speeches in front of Herat governorate after the completion of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan
Taliban forces patrol at a runway a day after U.S troops withdrawal from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul
The two men spoke for about 14 minutes on July 23. It was their last conversation before the Taliban captured the capital.
Ghani fled the presidential palace, Kabul and the country on August 15.
By then a chaotic evacuation was already under way, helping tens of thousands of people to safety as the cost of 13 American troops and dozens of Afghans killed in a suicide attack on Kabul airport.
But in mid July, Biden was intent on Ghani delivering a public message and public plan that would shore up confidence in the Afghan government.
‘You clearly have the best military, you have 300,000 well-armed forces versus 70-80,000 and they’re clearly capable of fighting well, we will continue to provide close air support, if we know what the plan is and what we are doing,’ he said.
He pushed Ghani to allow his Defense Minister General Bismillah Khan Mohammadi to pursue a strategy that would focus on defending major population centers.
And he urged the Afghan president to bring together some of the most powerful anti-Taliban warlords in a show of support to reverse perceptions of a crumbling government.
Taliban special forces fighters arrive inside the Hamid Karzai International Airport after the U.S. military’s withdrawal
‘But I really think, I don’t know whether you’re aware, just how much the perception around the world is that this is looking like a losing proposition, which it is not, not that it necessarily is that, but so the conclusion I’m asking you to consider is to bring together everyone from [Former Vice President Abdul Rashid] Dostum, to [Former President Hamid] Karzai and in between,’ he said.
‘If they stand there and say they back the strategy you put together, and put a warrior in charge, you know a military man, Khan in charge of executing that strategy, and that will change perception, and that will change an awful lot I think.’
Ghani responded by saying Afghanistan was facing not just the Taliban, but their foreign backers.
‘We are facing a full-scale invasion, composed of Taliban, full Pakistani planning and logistical support, and at least 10-15,000 international terrorists, predominantly Pakistanis thrown into this,’ he said.
But he also asked that American close air support be ‘frontloaded’ to help with the challenges faced by the Afghan army immediately.
Details of their conversation emerged a day after the last U.S. troops were flown out Kabul ending America’s longest war.