Former defense secretary says Trump ‘undermined’ US deal with the Taliban by rushing withdrawal of troops


taliban take over herat afghanistan

Taliban fighters pose on the back of a vehicle in the city of Herat, west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, after they took this province from Afghan government. Associated Press/Hamed Sarfarazi

  • Former President Donald Trump signed a conditional peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020.

  • The Taliban agreed to stop the support of terrorist groups and the US agreed to withdraw troops.

  • Ex-Defense Secretary Mark Esper told CNN Trump’s hurry to withdraw troops undermined the deal.

  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Former President Donald Trump’s Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the US deal with the Taliban may have been “undermined” after Trump continued to try to get troops out of Afghanistan before the group met conditions that were part of the 2020 agreement.

“President Trump, by continuing to want to withdraw American forces out of Afghanistan, undermined the agreement – which is why in the fall, when he was calling for a return of US forces by Christmas, I objected,” Esper told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

Trump fired Esper in November 2020 after losing the Presidential election.

In February 2020, the US and the Taliban signed the “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan,” a conditional peace deal that would have the US remove troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban stop support for terrorist groups.

Esper told Amanpour that he wrote a letter to Trump in the fall of 2020 that was based on military expert recommendations, calling on him not to reduce troops to less than 4,500 “unless and until conditions were met by the Taliban. Otherwise, we would see a number of things play out, which are unfolding right now in many ways.”

CNN reported that despite the deal, violence in the country reached its highest levels in 20 years last year.

The Taliban took control of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, on Sunday. The group put up checkpoints throughout the city and near the airport and violence erupted as desperate residents attempted to flee. During the Taliban’s previous governance of the country, from 1996 to 2001, they enforced strict rules that significantly limited women’s rights.

On Sunday, Trump blamed the situation in Afghanistan on President Joe Biden not following the plan his administration put together on withdrawing from the country. In a statement on Saturday, Biden blamed Trump and the deal he made with the Taliban for the current crisis.

“When I came to office, I inherited a deal cut by my predecessor,” Biden said.

On Sunday, the Republican National Committee quietly removed a webpage that praised Trump’s deal with the Taliban. The RNC said the removal was part of regular web maintenance.

In a tweet, Esper said both Trump and Biden could have handled the situation differently to prevent the collapse of the Afghan government and the Taliban takeover. He told Amanpour that Biden “owns the situation” and could have altered the current crisis by “extending the timeline, and taking a more thoughtful approach and not relying on simple assumptions.”

“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 US and allied militaries. We had this, but both presidents abandoned the process and stuck to an arbitrary timeline,” Esper said.

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