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The Phone Call That May Come Back to Haunt Joe Biden

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Just weeks before Afghanistan rapidly fell to the Taliban, President Joe Biden urged President Ashraf Ghani to focus on the government’s “perception” problem around the world. In a July 23 phone call obtained by Reuters, Biden was concerned about the Taliban’s strength at a time when the U.S.’s withdrawal was well underway, and the Bagram Air Base had closed earlier in the month.  


“I need not tell you the perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things are not going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban,” Biden said on the 14-minute call. 

“And there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture,” he added (emphasis mine).

Biden then offered aid if Ghani could agree to this. 

In the call, Biden offered aid if Ghani could publicly project he had a plan to control the spiraling situation in Afghanistan. “We will continue to provide close air support, if we know what the plan is,” Biden said. Days before the call, the U.S. carried out air strikes to support Afghan security forces, a move the Taliban said was in violation of the Doha peace agreement.

The U.S. president also advised Ghani to get buy-in from powerful Afghans for a military strategy going forward, and then to put a “warrior” in charge of the effort, a reference to Defense Minister General Bismillah Khan Mohammadi. (Reuters)

“[Y]our assurance of support goes a very long way to enable us, to really mobilize us in earnest,” Ghani told Biden. He later fled the country as the Taliban fighters entered Kabul, reportedly with nearly $170 million, though he vehemently denies the allegation.

At the time of the call, “Taliban insurgents controlled about half of Afghanistan's district centers, indicating a rapidly deteriorating security situation,” according to Reuters.


In a separate call later that day between top U.S. military officials and Ghani, Gen. Mark Milley also pushed the point about changing the perception. 

Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Ghani “the perception in the United States, in Europe and the media sort of thing is a narrative of Taliban momentum, and a narrative of Taliban victory. And we need to collectively demonstrate and try to turn that perception, that narrative around.” (Reuters)

Publicly, Biden was projecting confidence about the situation in Afghanistan, insisting that the fall of the government and a Taliban takeover of the country was "highly unlikely" because "the Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped — as well-equipped as any army in the world — and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban." 

Later, Biden insisted during an Aug. 18 interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos that no one, including those in the intelligence community, warned him such a rapid Taliban takeover was a possibility. "Not this quickly. Not even close," he said. The Wall Street Journal's reporting that a cable from State Department officials warning of a quick Taliban takeover challenges that claim, however. 

There have been many aspects of the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal that critics have argued Biden should be impeached over -- this phone call is just the latest. 


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