Former CIA Chief Rips Biden, Alleges Intel Showed Rapid Afghan Collapse Was 'Ultimate' Outcome


There are plenty of lines that may come back to live in infamy from President Joe Biden’s speech to the nation Monday regarding the collapse of Afghanistan. One prime candidate: “But I always promised the American people that I will be straight with you. The truth is: This did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.”

The reason, of course, wasn’t any failure on the part of the administration. It was all on the other side: “Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight,” Biden said, according to a White House transcript.

“If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision.”

The problem with that line — and the explanation that followed — isn’t that it’s proof the administration fell victim to the old adage that failure to plan is planning to fail. That’d be bad enough.

Instead, one of the CIA’s former counterterrorism chiefs said Biden could have anticipated it. After all, administration officials had been told the fall of Afghanistan might happen “within days” of a withdrawal.

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In a piece published by Just Security on Wednesday, Douglas London, the former CIA counterterrorism chief for south and southwest Asia until 2019, said Biden’s claim was “misleading at best” and that, as a volunteer adviser for Biden’s campaign, he and others had warned this could be a potential outcome.

“The U.S. Intelligence Community assessed Afghanistan’s fortunes according to various scenarios and conditions and depending on the multiple policy alternatives from which the president could choose,” London wrote.

“So, was it 30 days from withdrawal to collapse? 60? 18 months? Actually, it was all of the above, the projections aligning with the various ‘what ifs.’ Ultimately, it was assessed, Afghan forces might capitulate within days under the circumstances we witnessed, in projections highlighted to Trump officials and future Biden officials alike.” (Emphasis London’s.)

London wasn’t particularly a fan of either former President Donald Trump’s Afghan policy or Biden’s withdrawal. However, while he called Trump’s withdrawal agreement “catastrophic,” he said it was on “terms intended to get the president through the coming elections.”

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“But it was just as clear in the Biden camp that the candidate was committed to leaving Afghanistan, the security implications from which his team had more confidence they could manage than the intelligence supported,” London wrote.

“Endorsing Trump’s withdrawal agreement was considered win-win. It played well with most Americans. Moreover, from my perspective, they appeared to believe that negative consequences would be at least largely owned by Trump, the GOP, and [American diplomat Zalmay] Khalilzad, whose being left in place, intentionally or not, allowed him to serve even more so as a fall guy.”

“There was a rather naïve confidence among Biden’s more influential foreign policy advisors that the Taliban’s best interests were served by adhering to the agreement’s main points,” London wrote. “Doing so, they argued, would guarantee the U.S. withdrawal, and leave room for more constructive engagement, possibly even aid, should the Taliban come to power.”

However, London said the Taliban was presenting itself as a far different entity than it actually was, noting that the insurgent group had “learned a great deal about the utility of PR since 2001.”

Furthermore, a withdrawal was also likely to lead to “the broad coalition of Afghan politicians, warlords and military leaders across the country benefiting from the money and power that came with a sustained U.S. presence” losing confidence and throwing their support behind the Taliban.

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“Switching sides for a better deal or to fight another day is a hallmark of Afghan history. And U.S. policy to impose an American blueprint for a strong central government and integrated national army served only to enable [Afghan President Ashraf] Ghani’s disastrous and uncompromising stewardship.”

London said that he “advocated the need for the United States to remain in Afghanistan with a small, focused, counterterrorist presence but to adopt a dramatically different approach that did not require us being in the line of fire between rival national forces whose conflicts predated our intervention and will persist long after we’re gone.”

However, that wasn’t the point for him, noting “there was no intelligence failure by the agency in warning either Trump or Biden as to how events would play out.”

He added that “the failure was not due to any lack of warning, but rather the hubris and political risk calculus of decision makers whose choices are too often made in their personal and political interest or with pre-committed policy choices, rather than influenced by (sometimes inconvenient) intelligence assessments and the full interests of the country.”

Admitting this would go against the Biden administration’s three major talking points on Afghanistan. First, this was all Trump’s doing and the administration was chained to his policies. Second, the Afghans won’t fight for themselves, so why should we continue to prop them up? Third, there was no way we could have predicted the fall would be this quick.

On the first count, unaddressed by London, Trump’s pullout would have been conditions-based, whereas the Biden administration made it clear the president was adamantly against that: “This is not conditions-based. The president has judged that a conditions-based approach … is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever,” an administration official told The Washington Post just before an April announcement regarding a hard deadline to have troops out.

“He has reached the conclusion that the United States will complete its drawdown and will remove its forces from Afghanistan before September 11th.”

Furthermore, when has Biden felt himself chained to his predecessor’s policies in any way? Even if he did in this particular case, the withdrawal agreement the Americans signed in Doha, Qatar, last year allowed for the United States to keep forces in Afghanistan if there hadn’t been a peace agreement between the Taliban and Afghan government — which there wasn’t. We left because Joe Biden wanted to leave.

And again, on that count, it’s not as if there weren’t warnings.

As The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, “The president’s top generals, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley, urged Mr. Biden to keep a force of about 2,500 troops, the size he inherited, while seeking a peace agreement between warring Afghan factions, to help maintain stability.”

“Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who previously served as a military commander in the region, said a full withdrawal wouldn’t provide any insurance against instability,” the outlet noted.

On the second count, London and others agreed that the reason the Afghan government cratered is that the United States’ blueprint for the central government and military was flawed and relied on U.S. support.

Instead of reversing course and weaning them off using the U.S. as a crutch with a minimal footprint in the country that would have ensured a stalemate, Biden has expressed disappointment at every opportunity that the abandoned Afghan military didn’t fight like the doomed Spartans in “300.”

And finally, the line that could live in infamy: “But I always promised the American people that I will be straight with you. The truth is: This did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.”

If it did, it’s just because Joe Biden slept through that briefing — or that his people didn’t want to listen. They’d been reliably informed. His administration officials are lying to us, themselves or both. Whatever the case, they’re not being straight with anybody.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture