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Photo: Oliver Contreras/Sipa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Senior national security officials presiding over a historic foreign policy collapse are privately expressing deep frustrations about the thin Afghanistan withdrawal plans left behind by Donald Trump.

Why it matters: Many experienced operatives in both parties are aghast that President Biden and his team didn't ready better preparations over nearly seven months since taking office.

  • But two Biden officials who spoke with Axios on Monday on condition of anonymity bristled at the criticism coming from former President Trump and his administration in the wake of the Taliban's rapid sweep across Afghanistan and capture of Kabul.

What they're saying: “There was no plan to evacuate our diplomats to the airport,” a senior national security official told Axios about the preparations they inherited from the previous administration. “None of this was on the shelf, so to speak.”

  • "When we got in, on Jan. 20, we saw that the cupboard was bare," the official said, echoing a complaint Team Biden also made about Trump's vaccine distribution plan.
  • Former President Trump said in a statement Monday slamming his successor: "It's not that we left Afghanistan. It's the grossly incompetent way we left!"

The big picture: In an address to the nation, Biden criticized U.S.-trained Afghan forces for not being willing to fight for their own country while acknowledging that the Taliban exerted dominance "more quickly than we anticipated."

  • He called the end of American's military involvement "hard and messy and, yes, far from perfect."

Between the lines: Biden officials said Trump's team was slow to brief them during the transition on key details and context behind the 2020 peace agreement signed in Doha.

  • That Trump-era deal between the U.S. and the Taliban called for a withdrawal of troops by May 2021.
  • Separately, Trump, after losing the election, signed a secret memo to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan before Biden took office, as Axios' Jonathan Swan and Zachary Basu reported. But after some Trump officials became aware of “an off-the-books operation by the commander in chief himself,” they eventually persuaded Trump to keep some 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.

After all of that, the senior Biden officials said, Trump effectively didn't have a plan to bring all Americans, including troops, contractors and diplomats, home safely. One said that created "headwinds" and "unnecessarily increased" the degree of difficulty for the new administration.

  • "The entire policy process had atrophied," one of the officials said. "It was really manifest here.
  • “On the one hand, they set a May deadline for withdrawal,” the official said. “On the other hand, there was no interagency planning on how to execute a withdrawal."

The bottom line: Biden officials aren't directly blaming Trump for how events unfolded in Kabul.

  • But they do want to challenge what they see as bad-faith arguments from Trump officials making the case that they would have presided over a more orderly withdrawal.

Go deeper

Hostage families' mission to meet the president

Expand chart
Reproduced from The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation; Chart: Axios Visuals

Relatives of American hostages and political prisoners held overseas are increasingly impatient for a meeting with President Biden.

Driving the news: Last week's release of a U.S. journalist held in Myanmar has elevated some expectations. So, too, did four years of Donald Trump's unusually public enthusiasm for and prioritization of hostage negotiations — with some notable successes.

Scoop: Biden restarting Trump's "Remain in Mexico" policy

Migrants sit against a fence while waiting to board a Border Patrol bus. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

President Biden will start turning asylum seekers back to Mexico as soon as next week under a reinstated Trump-era "Remain in Mexico" program — but will offer them the option to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Under court orders, the president will officially undo a key immigration promise, which will force asylum-seekers to wait months in Mexico ahead of their immigration court hearings in the U.S. — as long as Mexico accepts them.

Nov 24, 2021 - World

Scoop: Saudis tried to stop UAE-Israel-Jordan solar energy deal

The crown princes of the UAE (left) and Saudi Arabia. Photo: Saudi handout via Getty

The Saudi government pressured the United Arab Emirates to back off a major solar energy deal with Israel and Jordan, two senior Israeli officials with direct knowledge and another source briefed on the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: The agreement signed on Monday and helped across the finish line by U.S. climate envoy John Kerry is the biggest renewable energy project in the region. It will see the UAE build a massive solar farm in Jordan to supply electricity to Israel, and Israel in turn will build a desalination plant to provide water to Jordan.