To anyone who had a clue about foreign policy in the last 4 years, it was well-established fact that former President Donald Trump was surrounded by bad actors who did everything possible to derail his America First foreign policy actions.
Now, new information has surfaced about how military leadership undermined Trump’s efforts to withdraw from Afghanistan and eventually forced him to yield on the matter.
According to a report by Gareth Porter of The Grayzone, retired Col. Douglas Macgregor spilled the beans on the military establishment’s schemes to keep the Afghan conflict going. Trump caught the U.S. military off guard when he signed a presidential order pushing for the withdrawal of all American troops from Afghanistan by the end 2020.
Macgregor told The Grayzone that the chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) General Mark Milley strongly pushed back against the withdrawal order, which led to Trump’s eventual capitulation. Trump ended up conceding to a withdrawal plan where only half of the 5,000 remaining troops in Afghanistan would be removed. One thing that Porter observed was that “neither Trump’s order nor the pressure from the JCS chairman was reported by the national media at the time.”
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In effect, by yielding to the Pentagon, Trump was handed a major defeat. This was part of a broader effort the Pentagon pursued to derail the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement signed in February 2020. The conflict continues without end under Joe Biden’s watch.
Porter argued that the “subversion of the peace agreement with the Taliban initiated by the US military leadership in Washington and Afghanistan began almost as soon as Trump’s personal envoy Zalmay Khalilzad negotiated a tentative deal in November 2019.”
In fact, the Secretary of Defense at the time, Mark Esper was leading the campaign to override Trump’s withdrawal order. Trump faced heavy pressure to change the terms of the agreement which prompted him to instruct Khalilzad to give the Taliban an ultimatum: “agree to a full ceasefire as a prelude to a broader peace deal, including negotiations with the Afghan government, or the deal was off.”
The Taliban rejected the immediate ceasefire with the Afghan government, and instead, offered a “reduction in violence” for seven days to set up a friendly environment for carrying out the peace agreement. From there, the Taliban countered with their own ultimatum where they would completely walk away from the negotiating table if the U.S. rejected the offer.
Khalilzad attempted to save the deal by acquiescing to the Taliban proposal of a one-week “reduction of violence” by both parties. Porter outlined some of the key points of the agreement:
The adversaries reached further understandings on what such a ‘reduction in violence’ would mean: the Taliban agreed there would be no attacks on population centers and Afghan stationary military targets, but reserved the right to attack government convoys if they exploited the reduction to seize control of new areas.
Under the peace agreement that the U.S. and Taliban signed on February 29, 2020, American troops would be pulled out from the country in two phases. In the first stage, the U.S. would scale down its military presence to 8,600 within 4.5 months and withdraw military forces from five bases before a final withdrawal that is set to take place in May 2021. From there, the U.S. and its allies vowed to “refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Afghanistan or intervening in its domestic affairs.”
On its end, the Taliban vowed that it would “not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”
However, there were some catches to the ceasefire agreement that the U.S. and Taliban originally reached:
But the pact did not provide for the immediate ceasefire between Taliban and Afghan government forces which the U.S. military and Pentagon demanded. Instead ‘a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire’ was to be negotiated between the two Afghan parties.
With startling swiftness and determination, Pentagon officials and military leadership exploited the open-ended terms of the ceasefire to derail the implementation of the agreement.
At the time, Secretary of Defense Esper asserted that the peace deal let the U.S. military defend Afghan forces, a statement that contradicted the terms of the agreement. To top it off, Esper promised to defend the Afghan government if the Taliban started attacking its military assets, which laid the groundwork for Americans to begin breaking the terms of the agreement.
Porter outlined the result of Esper’s decision:
Esper’s promise of continued US military support, made public in Congressional testimony days later, gave the Afghan government a clear incentive to refuse any concessions to the Taliban. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani promptly refused to go ahead with a promised prisoner exchange until formal negotiations with the Taliban had begun.
In response, the Taliban carried out a number of attacks on government forces at checkpoints in conflict zones. American forces responded in kind with an airstrike against Taliban forces conducting the aforementioned operations in Helmand province.
Based on Esper’s promise to the Afghan government and the aforementioned American airstrike, there was no real indication that the U.S. had any intention of pulling out troops from Afghanistan. In fact, Esper’s behavior showed that the U.S. was willing to do anything to undermine the Afghan withdrawal.
In the aftermath of the 2020 elections, key military figures signed on to a memorandum from the “chain of command” advising Trump to not pursue further withdrawals in Afghanistan until certain “conditions” had been met. Some of the terms used in this memo included a “reduction in violence” and “progress at the negotiating table.”
Trump was furious with this memo and promptly fired Esper on November 9 and named Christopher Miller as his successor. Miller is the former head of the US counter-terrorism center and was in agreement with Trump’s withdrawal plan from Afghanistan.
On the day Miller stepped in to fill in Esper’s previous role, Trump requested that Douglas Macgregor work as Miller’s “senior adviser.” Macgregor is a seasoned restrainer, who has criticized U.S. belligerence from Russia to Afghanistan.
Upon starting his advisory role, Macgregor quickly crafted a plan to facilitate a speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan. Porter noted that Trump got very close to withdrawing all American troops before he left office.
Porter detailed some of Macgregor’s efforts to get Trump to follow through with hiss withdrawal:
According to Macgregor, he met Miller on November 10 and told him that a pullout from Afghanistan could only be accomplished by a formal presidential order. Later that day, Macgregor dictated the language of such an order to the White House by phone.
The draft order stated that all uniformed military personnel would be withdrawn from Afghanistan no later than December 31, 2020. Macgregor told the staffer to get a National Security Presidential Memorandum from the White House files to ensure that it was published in the correct format.
For a brief moment, it looked like Trump was going to follow through with his withdrawal plan, but Porter highlighted how military and national security bigwigs derailed Trump’s plans:
Macgregor’s White House contact informed him in the morning of November 11 that Trump had read the memorandum and immediately signed it. On November 12, however, he learned that Trump had met with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, and Acting Secretary Miller. Trump was told that the orders he placed in the memorandum could not be executed, according to Macgregor’s White House contact.
Porter further exposed Milley’s efforts to capsize Trump’s sensible withdrawal policies:
Milley argued that a withdrawal would harm the chances of negotiating a final peace settlement and that continued US presence in Afghanistan had “bipartisan support,” Macgregor was informed. Later that night, Macgregor learned that Trump had agreed to withdraw only half of the total: 2500 troops. Trump had once again given in to military pressure, as he did repeatedly on Syria.
Overall, it’s tragic to see an administration, which had so much promise, be sabotaged by nefarious actors. The withdrawal from Afghanistan is long overdue. The loss of life and financial costs are not worth it. According to figures from Statista, north of 2,300 American soldiers have perished in this war, which has also cost the U.S. $2 trillion. A conflict that started in 2001, the Afghanistan War must come to an end
The U.S.’s main threats are internal. In addition, the only foreign policy the U.S. should focus on is within its Western Hemisphere. One area it should put military assets in is on its Southern border where there is a legitimate humanitarian crisis taking place.
America must stop policing the world and now focus on getting its domestic house in order. To reach that goal, the America First movement will need competent staffing and a talent pipeline that allows for people like Douglas Macgregor to have prominent roles in future presidential administrations.