In last call before Afghan breakdown, Biden squeezed Ghani to ‘change perception’

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In the last call between US President Joe Biden and his Afghanistan counterpart before the Taliban seized control of the country, the leaders discussed military aid, political strategy and messaging tactics, but neither Biden nor Ashraf Ghani appeared conscious of or prepared for the immediate danger of the whole country falling to insurgents, a transcript reviewed by Reuters shows.

The men spoke for roughly 14 minutes on July 23.

On Assumption , Ghani fled the presidential palace, and therefore the Taliban entered Kabul. Since then, tens of thousands of desperate Afghans have fled and 13 US troops and many Afghan civilians were killed during a bombing at the Kabul airport during the frenetic US military evacuation.

Reuters reviewed a transcript of the presidential call and has listened to the audio to authenticate the conversation. The materials were provided on condition of anonymity by a source who wasn’t authorised to distribute it.

In the call, Biden offered aid if Ghani could publicly project he had an idea to regulate the spiralling situation in Afghanistan.

“We will still provide close air support, if we all know what the plan is,” Biden said. Days before the decision , the US administered airstrikes to support Afghan security forces, a move the Taliban said was in violation of the Doha peace agreement.

The US president also advised Ghani to urge buy-in from powerful Afghans for a military strategy going forward, then to place a “warrior” responsible of the trouble , a regard to Defence Minister General Bismillah Khan Mohammadi.

‘Perception problem’
Biden lauded the Afghan soldiers , which were trained and funded by the United States government .

“You clearly have the simplest military,” he told Ghani. “You have 300,000 well-armed forces versus 70-80,000 and they’re clearly capable of fighting well.”

Days later, the Afghan military started folding across provincial capitals within the country with little fight against the Taliban.

In much of the decision , Biden focused on what he called the Afghan government’s “perception” problem.

“I needn’t tell you the perception round the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things aren’t going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban,” Biden said. “And there’s a requirement , whether it’s true or not, there’s a requirement to project a special picture.”

Biden told Ghani that if Afghanistan’s prominent political figures were to offer news conference together, backing a replacement military strategy, “that will change perception, which will change an awful lot i feel .”

The American leader’s words indicated he didn’t anticipate the huge insurrection and collapse to return 23 days later. “We are getting to still fight hard, diplomatically, politically, economically, to form sure your government not only survives but is sustained and grows,” said Biden.

The White House Tuesday declined to discuss the decision .

After the decision , the White House released a press release that focused on Biden’s commitment to supporting Afghan security forces and therefore the administration seeking funds for Afghanistan from Congress.

Ghani told Biden he believed there might be peace if he could “rebalance the military solution”.

But he added, “We got to move with speed.”

“We face a full-scale invasion, composed of Taliban, full Pakistani planning and logistical support, and a minimum of 10-15,000 international terrorists, predominantly Pakistanis thrown into this,” Ghani claimed.

Blame game
Afghan officialdom , and US experts, have consistently pointed to Pakistani support for the Taliban as key to the group’s resurgence.

The Pakistani Embassy in Washington denies those allegations. “Clearly the parable of Taliban fighters crossing from Pakistan is, unfortunately, an excuse and an afterthought peddled by Mr Ashraf Ghani to justify his failure to steer and govern,” an embassy spokesman told Reuters.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had on July 16 hit back at Ghani’s claims about Pakistan’s “negative role” within the Afghan social process , adding that it had been “unfair” responsible the country for things in Afghanistan.

“President Ghani let me just say that the country which will be most suffering from turmoil in Afghanistan is Pakistan. Pakistan suffered 70,000 casualties within the last 15 years. The last item Pakistan wants is more conflict,” the premier said at the international conference on “Central and South Asia Regional Connectivity: Challenges and Opportunities” during his two-day visit to Uzbekistan.

The ministry had also earlier rejected the remarks from the Afghan president calling them “irresponsible and baseless”.

In a statement, the FO had said: “Pakistan has emphasised that groundless accusations erode trust and vitiate the environment between the 2 brotherly countries and disrespect constructive role being played by Pakistan in facilitating the Afghan social process .”

Reuters tried to succeed in Ghani’s staff for this story, in calls and texts, with no success. The last public statement from Ghani, who is believed to be within the United Arab Emirates, came on August 18. He said he fled Afghanistan to stop bloodshed.

By the time of the decision , the us was well into its planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, which Biden had postponed from the May date set by his predecessor, Donald Trump. The US military had closed its main Afghanistan airbase, at Bagram, in early July.

As the two presidents spoke, Taliban fighters controlled about half Afghanistan’s district centers, indicating a rapidly deteriorating security situation.

‘I am not a military guy’: Biden
Afghanistan was promising a shift in its military strategy, to start out that specialize in protecting “population centres” — major cities — instead of fighting to guard rural territories. Biden referred approvingly of that strategy.

He said that doing so would help not just on the bottom but within the “perception” internationally that was required to prop up world support for the Afghan government.

“I’m not a military guy, so I’m not telling you what an idea should precisely appear as if , you’re getting to get not only more help, but you’re getting to get a perception that’s getting to change …,” Biden said.

Ghani, for his part, assured Biden that “your assurance of support goes a really great distance to enable us, to actually mobilise us in earnest.”

In a little over fortnight after Biden’s call with Ghani, the Taliban captured several provincial Afghan capitals and therefore the us said it had been up to the Afghan security forces to defend the country.

“These are their military forces, these are their provincial capitals, their people to defend,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on August 9.

On August 11, US intelligence reports indicated Taliban fighters could isolate Afghanistan’s capital in 30 days and possibly take it over within 90. Instead, the autumn happened in but every week .

The Biden-Ghani call also underscored persistent political infighting that plagued the Afghan government.

When Biden asked him to incorporate former Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a news conference , Ghani pushed back. “Karzai wouldn’t be helpful,” he said. “He is contrary, and time is of the essence, we cannot bring every single individual … we’ve tried for months with President Karzai. Last time we met for 110 minutes; he was cursing me and he was accusing me of being a US lackey.”

Biden paused before responding: “I’m getting to reserve judgment thereon .”

Karzai couldn’t be reached for comment, despite calls and texts to at least one of his aides.

In a follow-up call later that day that didn’t include the US president, Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, General Mark Milley and US Central Command commander General Frank McKenzie spoke to Ghani. Reuters also obtained a transcript of that decision .

In this call, too, a neighborhood of focus was the worldwide perception of events on the bottom in Afghanistan.

Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of Staff, told Ghani “the perception within the us , in Europe and therefore the media kind of thing may be a narrative of Taliban momentum, and a narrative of Taliban victory. and that we got to collectively demonstrate and check out to show that perception, that narrative around.”

“I don’t believe time is our friend here. we’d like to maneuver quickly,” McKenzie added.

A spokesperson for McKenzie declined to comment. A spokesman for Milley didn’t respond by publication time.

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