Post-withdrawal Afghanistan is 'much worse' than Iraq power vacuum that spawned ISIS, general says

Kellogg: Not convinced Biden ‘has the will’ to go after terrorists

Gen. Keith Kellogg, co-chair of Center for American Security, presses the president on taking accountability for action in Afghanistan.

Retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, a Fox News contributor and former acting national security advisor to President Trump, told Fox News that President Biden owns the Afghanistan withdrawal disaster, and that the Afghan power vacuum Biden left behind is “much worse” than the power vacuum in Iraq that spawned the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

Fox News asked Kellogg if he would compare post-withdrawal Afghanistan to post-withdrawal Iraq, where a power vacuum provided the opportunity for ISIS to arise.

“No, it’s worse,” Kellogg said. “At least with Iraq, you had the semblance of a government that we supported.” He noted that the 82nd Airborne Division assisted the Iraqi government after most U.S. troops had withdrawn. 

“The situation in Afghanistan is much worse,” the retired general added. He noted that while Trump’s agreement with the Taliban would have required the Taliban to stop working with al Qaeda and to prevent any Afghanistan-based offensive operation against the U.S. from taking place, that agreement is no longer in force.

Retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg said that President Biden owns the Afghanistan withdrawal disaster, and that the Afghan power vacuum Biden left behind is "much worse" than the power vacuum in Iraq that spawned the ISIS.
(Reuters)

“Who says they would not work with al Qaeda?” Kellogg asked. “Right now, to me, Afghanistan is basically like the badlands here in the United States in the 1800s. It’s uncharted territory for us.”

“The probability of some kind of attack coming out of it is high,” the general told Fox News. He predicted that the United States would have to return, either with a “physical presence or a kinetic presence,” like the strike that took out an ISIS-Khorasan planner after ISIS-K suicide bombers killed 13 U.S. servicemembers near the Kabul airport last week.

Yet Kellogg noted that any potential strike against the Taliban or ISIS-K would depend on “the will of the commander in chief.” 

“Trump was very aggressive, if necessary, in resolving an issue with kinetic force,” the general explained, mentioning the strike that killed Iranian Quds Force Commander Quassem Soleimani and the operation that led ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to commit suicide.

As for Biden, Kellogg pushed back on the current president’s attempt to blame Trump amid the crisis.

Biden spoke Tuesday to commemorate the withdrawal of the final U.S. troops from Afghanistan. During his speech, the president suggested that Trump’s agreement with the Taliban forced his hand on withdrawal.

“The previous administration’s agreement said that if we stuck to the May 1st deadline that they had signed on to leave by, the Taliban wouldn’t attack any American forces,” the president said. “But if we stayed all bets were off, so we were left with a simple decision. Either follow through on the commitment made by the last administration and leave Afghanistan or say we weren’t leaving and commit another tens of thousands more troops going back to war. That was the choice. The real choice between leaving or escalating.”

Yet Kellogg claimed that Trump’s agreement with the Taliban was “null and void” before Biden took office and that if Trump were still president, he would not have withdrawn troops from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, the withdrawal deadline in the agreement.

“We set a conditions-based agreement that would have been between ourselves and the Taliban with certain benchmarks that had to be met,” the retired general said. “The end state was going to be a government of reconciliation, involving both the Taliban and the government led by Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani.”

“The most important part of the agreement was on the 10th of March, the agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government,” Kellogg argued, pointing to two clauses in the agreement. In those clauses, the Taliban agreed to “start intra-Afghan negotiations with Afghan sides on March 10, 2020” and to negotiate “a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.”

“As I’ve told people in the business world, if you sign a contract and the contract is not agreed to or the conditions are not met, then the contract is null and void,” the retired general said. “After we left office, the agreement was there but the Taliban didn’t fulfill on the agreement, so Biden had no obligation to fulfill on that.”

“We were under no obligation to continue any withdrawal of our forces. The May date was null and void,” Kellogg insisted. “It was no agreement at all.”

He faulted Biden for failing to reach out to the Taliban or the Ghani government to re-negotiate the agreement. “When he originally picked the 11th September date and then the 31st of August date for withdrawal, that was on him,” the retired general argued.

Kellogg said President Biden used his speech to “assemble the Afghan story so that he’s the aggrieved party,” but he insisted that in reality, “Joe Biden owns this debacle going forward.”

Taliban fighters sit on the back of a pick-up truck at the airport in Kabul on August 31, 2021, after the US has pulled all its troops out of the country to end a brutal 20-year war — one that started and ended with the hardline Islamists in power. 
(WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)

The general agreed with Biden that the war in Afghanistan should end, but he faulted the way the president carried out the withdrawal.

“Nobody’s arguing the why we’re doing it. It’s how they did it. There was a different way of doing it. We provided him that, and he put it in the shredder,” Kellogg said.

He laid out Trump’s back-up plan if the agreement completely fell apart. 

“The backup plan was we would never withdraw the final amount of troops,” Kellogg explained. The U.S. would still have 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, with several thousand support staff, maintained air power, and Bagram Air Base. 

Kellogg warned that Biden’s “unilateral” withdrawal put America in danger.

“When we wrote the agreement with the Taliban, they signed it, agreeing that they would not attack the U.S. We were going to hold them to their word,” he said.

Speaking of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s chief political officer, Kellogg said, “The president told to him in Trumpian terms that he would hold him responsible for any violation of the agreement, that any attack on America meant that he would become a target and he understood that.”

“When he signed that agreement, that was a month after we killed Soleimani. He reads the newspaper and he knew that we would come after him,” Kellogg noted.

The same message may not be as clear under Biden, the retired general warned.

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