Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country allowing the Taliban to take the capital unopposed on Sunday, claimed in May that his government could resist the terrorist group’s attacks without U.S. support.
Ghani fled the country on Aug. 15 as the Islamist insurgents entered Kabul, saying he did so to avoid bloodshed. Just months earlier, he said he was confident that the government could fend off the Taliban “forever,” as President Joe Biden’s Sept. 11 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops loomed.
In an interview with German news magazine Der Spiegel published on May 14, the former Afghanistan president said he was certain that his government could resist the Taliban’s attacks without further U.S. assistance. The Taliban was designated as a terrorist organization by the State Department decades ago.
“If I did anything, it was to prepare our forces for this situation,” Ghani said when pressed on the issue. “We have already effectively resisted the first wave of attacks in May … We are defensible.”
Former President Donald Trump signed a deal with the Taliban in February 2020 to withdraw U.S. troops by May 1 in exchange for the Taliban to not attack U.S. troops and cut ties with al-Qaeda. However, in April, Biden announced revised plans to withdraw all American forces from the country by Sept. 11.
Ghani told the outlet that the fundamental issue was the ambiguity whether, after May 1 passed, the U.S. troops would remain in the country or leave.
“That went on for two years. Now there is clarity, now a new chapter is being opened and new rules of the game apply,” he said.
Ghani didn’t rule out the possibility of a civil war breaking out, similar to the failed decade-long war against two Soviet-sponsored communist regimes in the country until 1989, but highlighted the country’s resilience.
“The probability of a civil war is there,” he said. “But it doesn’t have to come to that. You know, when the combat mission officially ended in 2014 and was modified as a training mission, everybody already saw the demise of the republic coming. But we made it work. Please take into consideration that all of this is also a question of narrative: The more the scenario of destabilization is spread, the more we are confronted with violence here.”
After Ghani flew out of Kabul, he posted on Facebook to his fellow countrymen but didn’t disclose where he had gone.
“I came across a hard choice; I should stand to face the armed Taliban who wanted to enter the palace or leave the dear country that I dedicated my life to protecting … the past 20 years,” he wrote, according to a translation.
In his Der Spiegel interview, Ghani had said that “no power in the world” could persuade him to get on a plane and leave the country.
“It is a country I love, and I will die defending,” he also claimed at the time.
The president’s words saw tens of thousands of Afghan families flee their homes hoping to find safety from the approaching Taliban in Kabul.
Biden in a speech on Aug. 16 defended his administration’s decision to withdraw all American forces, but admitted that the Ghani government fell more quickly than expected, suggesting that they lacked a fighting spirit.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticized the president in a statement on Aug. 13 for tearing up the former Trump administration’s efforts to negotiate a timed withdrawal with “extensive support from regional actors.”
“In Afghanistan, President Biden said he was putting his ‘trust’ in ‘the capacity of the Afghan military,’ and the result has been, again, an embarrassing spectacle, a diplomatic humiliation, and a national security catastrophe,” Cruz added.
The minister of defence of the overthrown government, General Bismillah Mohammadi, condemned the president for fleeing and selling the homeland shortly after Ghani flew out of Kabul on Aug. 15. He decried on Twitter: “They tied our hands behind our backs and sold the homeland, damn the rich man and his gang.”
دست ما را از پشت بستند و وطن را فروختند لعنت به غنی و دار دسته اش.
— General Bismillah Mohammadi (@Muham_madi1) August 15, 2021
Just hours earlier, he had posted that the Afghan National Defense and Security forces stood ready to defend Kabul, and that the “security of Kabul is ensured.”
On Monday, the general posted, “We will liberate Afghanistan from these terrorists. History will judge Ghani, the lover of his gang!!”
Biden authorized some 6,000 additional combat troops to assist with evacuation efforts on Aug. 14, and promised a “swift and forceful” response if the Taliban attacks U.S. troops or disrupts their evacuation operations.
“We will defend our people with devastating force if necessary,” he said.