It is an iron law that if governments put out important documents just ahead of a long holiday weekend there is something fishy about them. So it was with President Biden’s decision to release a report on America’s 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan on Thursday, before the Easter weekend. The White House press corps had about ten minutes to read it before a briefing where the first questioner, channelling Gilbert and Sullivan’s modern major-general, described it as the ‘very definition of a modern major holiday news dump.’
The report is a thin 12-page self-justification for the decisions made before and during the catastrophic withdrawal, selectively drawing on material gathered from after-action reviews across government. At the same time the State Department and the Pentagon sent their own reviews to relevant committees in Congress.
While the details of these reviews have not been made public, a lot of the raw material has already appeared elsewhere, and is highly critical of Biden’s decision-making, which makes it extraordinarily naïve of the White House to think its simplistic defence of its actions would have any credibility.
As far as the decision to withdraw is concerned, it was made against the clear advice of the US military, not that you would know it from reading the White House excuses. That advice went all the way to the top, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, who was clear in evidence to Congress, ‘I recommended that we maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.’
The White House report claims there was ‘intensive consultation with allies,’ over the withdrawal plan. But Britain’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was unusually frank at the time, considering the importance of this alliance, in admitting his reservations about the withdrawal.