Former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on Tuesday is railing against the February 2020 Doha agreement setting the timeline from a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, calling the Trump administration’s deal a “surrender to the Taliban.”
The retired Army general’s remarks, prepared for a Tuesday afternoon House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the end of the 20-year U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan, put significant responsibility on former President Trump’s administration for the fall of the U.S.-backed Kabul government and the chaotic and hasty U.S. troop withdrawal this summer.
“We must stop pretending that our surrender to the Taliban in February 2020 and subsequent concessions to that terrorist organization — which strengthened our enemies and weakened our Afghan allies — were not the principal reasons for a lost war and its consequences,” said Mr. McMaster, who serve barely more than a year as Mr. Trump’s top security aide before resigning under pressure in April 2018.
President Biden has argued the Trump deal with the Taliban tied his hands to a full, time-based withdrawal from Afghanistan, though some have questioned Mr. Biden’s decision to continue the previous administration’s policy while reversing many others. Mr. Trump said his agreement was based on the Taliban insurgency agreeing to a number of conditions and that a full withdrawal would not have occurred without the Taliban meeting their end of the bargain.
But Mr. McMaster said the bilateral deal left the U.S.-backed Afghan government without a seat at the table, resulting in a significant blow to Afghan resolve in the face of the Taliban offensive this year.
“The psychological blows we delivered to our Afghan allies included negotiating with the Taliban without the Afghan government, not insisting on a cease-fire, forcing the Afghan government to release 5,000 terrorists and criminals, curtailing intelligence support, ending active pursuit of the Taliban, withdrawing all U.S. aircraft from the country, and terminating contractor support for Afghan security forces,” the retired general argued in his prepared remarks.
Mr. McMaster has publicly parted with his former boss on several issues. His high-profile resignation came amid reported disputes with Mr. Trump and other senior administration officials.
Tuesday’s hearing follows a series of congressional testimony from Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and senior Pentagon officials — Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley, and U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie.
Last week, Gen. Milley and Gen. McKenzie revealed in back-to-back hearings before the House and Senate Armed Services committees that they opposed the full withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan under the Biden administration, seemingly contradicting Mr. Biden’s previous comments on the advice he received from Pentagon brass leading up the withdrawal.
Lawmakers’ questioning and takeaways from the hearings largely broke down among party lines, with Republicans remaining highly critical of the key decisions under the Biden administration leading up to the withdrawal and Democrats insisting that the failure of the two-decade war was a result of misguided policy throughout multiple administrations.
Mr. McMaster, who argues that the withdrawal decision was misguided, said in his prepared remarks that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is a repeat of mistakes made in the withdrawal from Iraq under President Obama.
“We failed to learn from our complete withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011 and the subsequent re-emergence of al Qaeda in Iraq which morphed into ISIS,” he said. “By the summer of 2014, ISIS gained control of territory the size of Britain and became the most destructive terrorist organization in history.”
Mr. McMaster, like many lawmakers, suggests that the war in Afghanistan did not end with the U.S. withdrawal and echoed fears that the U.S. has failed to learn lessons from previous engagements.
“A fundamental lesson is that wars are interactive and that progress in war and diplomacy is never linear,” he said.
“That is why the war in Afghanistan and the long war against jihadist terrorist organizations is not over; it is entering a new, more dangerous era,” he continued. “Containing and then recovering from the catastrophe in Afghanistan and learning from it will require U.S. leaders to confront the truth of our experience in Afghanistan and stop pretending.”