Senior military officials in the United States have linked the collapse of the Afghan government and its security forces in August to former President Donald Trump’s deal with the Taliban in 2020 promising a complete withdrawal of US troops.
General Frank McKenzie, the head of Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that once the US troop presence was pushed below 2,500 as part of Washington’s bid to complete a total withdrawal by the end of August, the unravelling of the US-backed Afghan government accelerated.
“The signing of the Doha agreement had a really pernicious effect on the government of Afghanistan and on its military – psychological more than anything else, but we set a date – certain for when we were going to leave and when they could expect all assistance to end,” McKenzie said.
He was referring to a February 29, 2020, agreement that the Trump administration signed with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, in which the US promised to fully withdraw its troops by May 2021 and the Taliban committed to several conditions, including stopping attacks on US and coalition forces.
The stated objective was to promote a peace negotiation between the Taliban and the Afghan government, but that diplomatic effort had failed to gain traction before former US President Donald Trump was replaced by President Joe Biden in January.
The new US president pushed ahead with the plan for the troop withdrawal but extended the deadline to August 31.
McKenzie said he also had believed “for quite a while” that if the US reduced the number of its military advisers in Afghanistan below 2,500, the collapse of the government in Kabul would be inevitable “and that the military would follow”.
He said in addition to the morale-depleting effects of the Doha agreement, the troop reduction ordered by Biden in April was ”the other nail in the coffin” for the 20-year war effort because it blinded the US military to conditions inside the Afghan army, “because our advisers were no longer down there with those units”.