Aug 14, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: White House to circulate Afghanistan memo defending U.S. withdrawal

A group of military families and veterans watch President Joe Biden's speech announcing that all troops are out of Afghanistan, on August 31, 2021.
A group of military families and veterans watch President Biden's speech announcing that all troops are out of Afghanistan, on Aug. 31, 2021. Photo: Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images

The White House is planning to circulate a new memo on Capitol Hill defending President Biden's decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and claiming the move strengthened national security by freeing up critical military and intelligence agents, according to a copy of the document obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The memo comes as many across Washington are still seeking answers about the flawed evacuation. Republicans in particular are planning to use the one-year anniversary to reexamine the failures that led to the Afghan capital swiftly falling into the hands of the Taliban.

Driving the news: The memo was written by National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson in part as an attempt to preempt criticism from Republicans who are releasing an interim report on Sunday outlining what they see as the failures of the administration's preparations for the evacuation.

  • The GOP report, led by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the likely chair of the panel if Republicans take back the majority next year, claims the Biden administration left key decisions on how to evacuate civilians from Kabul until the final hours before the city fell to the Taliban.
  • "There was a complete lack and a failure to plan. There was no plan and there was no plan executed," McCaul said on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday morning.

Details: The memo argues the GOP report is "riddled with false claims" and puts the onus on former President Trump for striking a 2020 deal with the Taliban — known as the "Doha agreement" — to evacuate the U.S. from the region by May 2021.

  • The White House argues top intelligence professionals assessed the U.S. would "ultimately need to send more American troops into harm’s way just to keep the stalemate in a 20-year war from degrading," and Biden refused to do that.
  • The White House also touts the recent strike that killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri as evidence the U.S. does not need a permanent troop presence to defend against terrorism.

The bottom line: The diverging documents represent the split screen we'll see in the coming days of how Democrats and Republicans will recount what happened last year.

  • Democrats and the White House are eager to portray the withdrawal as a necessary move that kept U.S. troops safe and ended the 20-year war in the region.
  • Republicans, meanwhile, are still hoping to reexamine the mistakes the administration made in the lead up to and after the evacuation, and plan to make Afghanistan a key focus of investigations if they reclaim power in Congress next year.

Read the memo.

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