President Joe Biden reportedly overruled Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on his plan to withdraw military forces from Afghanistan.
The revelations come in a soon-to-be-released book by veteran reporter Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of The Washington Post titled Peril. The book is set to be released next week and a copy was obtained by CNN, which broke the story of the Afghanistan decision.
The book says that Mr Biden was adamant about withdrawing from Afghanistan regardless of the advice from his top advisers and that Mr Austin, a retired general who served in the region, and Mr Blinken, a longtime adviser of Mr Biden’s, both advised a slower withdrawal.
The report said that Mr Blinken initially “had been foursquare with Biden for a full withdrawal”. But after Mr Blinken visited NATO ministers, the top US diplomat urged the president “to extend the mission with US troops for a while to see if it could yield a political settlement” in hopes it could buy more time for negotiations.
During his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Mr Blinken said he and Mr Austin he visited NATO “well before the president’s decision” on Afghanistan.
“We factored in everything we heard from our allies into our own decision-making decision process,” Mr Blinken told Republican Sen Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who noted that many allies were angered by the United States’ speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But in the book, Mr Blinken reportedly said he heard from NATO ministers that the United States should leverage its withdrawal to gain concrete steps for a political settlement.
Similarly, Mr Austin proposed a “gated” withdrawal in three or four stages to give leverage during diplomatic negotiations.
Despite this, Mr Biden reportedly said he would not allow for “mission creep”, the book said.
“Our mission is to stop Afghanistan from being a base for attacking the homeland and US allies by al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, not to deliver a death blow to the Taliban,” he said, during one of 25 foreign policy briefings held during the review.
During his testimony on Tuesday, Mr Blinken faced bipartisan criticism on the Hill.
“Mr Secretary, the execution of the US withdrawal was clearly and fatally flawed,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, said in his opening remarks. “This committee expects to receive a full explanation of this administration’s decisions on Afghanistan since coming into office last January.”
And the ranking Republican member criticised Mr Austin for not appearing at the hearing alongside Mr Blinken.
isch, the ranking Republican member on the committee, criticised the fact that Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin did join Mr Blinken and testify.
“There’s questions that we really need to have answered, and it’s disheartening that they decline to testify. The debacle in Afghanistan is an interagency failure, and the fact that you are the only one stepping up is disheartening,” Senator James Risch said in his opening remarks.