The former president and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, are attacking President Biden over Afghanistan even as their own policy faces harsh criticism.
By Michael Crowley
WASHINGTON — Days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks two years ago, President Donald J. Trump had a novel idea. He would invite leaders of the Taliban, the group that harbored Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan as the founder of Al Qaeda plotted his strikes on America, to join peace negotiations at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.
The notion of any presidential meeting with the Taliban, let alone one close to Sept. 11, stunned many of Mr. Trump’s top advisers. But Mr. Trump was eager to engage with the militant group, which the United States had been fighting for almost 20 years, as he pursued his goal of removing American troops from Afghanistan by the end of his term.
Months earlier, at Mr. Trump’s direction, the State Department had begun face-to-face talks with the Taliban in Qatar to negotiate an American exit. Mr. Trump called off the Taliban visit to Camp David after an American soldier was killed in a bombing in Kabul, the Afghan capital, but the peace talks continued.
They culminated in a February 2020 deal under which the United States agreed to withdraw in return for Taliban promises not to harbor terrorists and to engage in their first direct negotiations with the Afghan government. Mr. Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, attended the signing ceremony in Doha and posed for a photo alongside the Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, which resurfaced this week on social media. Mr. Baradar is widely expected to become the head of a new Taliban government based in Kabul.
Some former senior Trump officials now call that agreement fatally flawed, saying it did little more than provide cover for a pullout that Mr. Trump was impatient to begin before his re-election bid. They also say it laid the groundwork for the chaos unfolding now in Kabul.
“Our secretary of state signed a surrender agreement with the Taliban,” Mr. Trump’s second national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said of Mr. Pompeo during a podcast interview with the journalist Bari Weiss on Wednesday. “This collapse goes back to the capitulation agreement of 2020. The Taliban didn’t defeat us. We defeated ourselves.”
And in an interview with CNN on Wednesday, former Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said that, while President Biden “owns” the ultimate outcome in Afghanistan, Mr. Trump had earlier “undermined” the agreement through his barely disguised impatience to exit the country with little apparent regard for the consequences. That included an October 2020 declaration by Mr. Trump that he wanted the 5,000 American troops then in Afghanistan home by Christmas.
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