Apr 29, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Hillary Clinton, Condi Rice concerned about Afghan troop withdrawal

Photo illustration of Hillary Clinton and Condoleeza Rice with apache helicopters in the background

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Lev Radin (Pacific Press/LightRocket), Marla Aufmuth/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee they're worried about President Biden's plan to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, with Rice suggesting the U.S. may need to go back, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The position puts two former secretaries of State — from the Obama and Bush administrations — at odds with one of Biden's most significant foreign policy moves to date.

  • The new president has vowed to complete the withdrawal by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack. U.S. forces were sent to Afghanistan by Rice's then-boss, former President George W. Bush, to destroy havens used by the attack's organizers.
  • Clinton and Rice offered their reactions during a members-only Zoom call Wednesday, two attendees told Axios.
  • Rice's office did not want to comment on a private briefing. Clinton's spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

What they're saying: "We had Secretaries Clinton and Condi Rice Zoom today with the committee," one committee member told Axios. "A little disagreement on Afghanistan, but they both agreed we're going to need to sustain a counterterrorism mission somehow outside of that country."

  • "Condi Rice is like, 'You know, we’re probably gonna have to go back,'" amid a potential surge in terrorism, the member said.
  • Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the committee, told Axios: "With the potential for an Islamic State, coupled with what they're going to do to our contractors in Yemen and Afghanistan is, sadly, it's going to be tragic there and we all see it coming."
  • Another member of the committee confirmed both Clinton and Rice raised concerns about the potential fallout from a quick removal of all U.S. troops.
  • Both also expressed concerns about protecting U.S. diplomats on the ground following the withdrawal and what the move will mean for the global war on terrorism.

Background: Both Rice and Clinton supported military intervention in the Middle East following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

  • Rice, who was Bush's national security adviser at the time, helped craft the administration's wartime response.
  • Then-senator Clinton — considered by many as a military hawk — voted in 2002 to give Bush the authority to go to war, a vote she later said she regretted while on the presidential campaign trail.
  • Clinton also supported surging additional troops to Afghanistan in 2009.
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