Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Breitbart News exclusively on Friday that President Joe Biden’s “tragic” failure in his withdrawal from Afghanistan “didn’t have to be this way.”
“It is a demonstrably incompetent, tactical and operational use of America’s power in a way that has put American lives at risk,” Pompeo said in a phone interview. “And that is disheartening. It is sad. But more importantly, it has ramifications all across the world.”
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) September 11, 2020
Pompeo, who oversaw now former President Donald Trump’s negotiations for peace in Afghanistan after 20 years of war, said Trump would have handled the withdrawal much differently than Biden. Pompeo traveled multiple times to Doha, Qatar, to meet with the Taliban’s leaders, including a trip on the 19th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks last year on which Breitbart News joined him and interviewed him after he oversaw intra-Afghan peace talks. In this interview, Pompeo said that had he and Trump still been overseeing the withdrawal process, it would have been much different than how badly Biden has handled it.
“As far as how it would have been different, we had an approach that we literally worked on from the very beginning,” Pompeo said. “So President Trump had made clear in his campaign, he wanted to get our young men and women home as quickly as he could. We were striving to achieve that. He also made very, clear both when I was CIA director, but more directly to me when I was the Secretary of State, that we had a second objective—and that was to make sure we could do so in a way that was orderly, that got equipment home, that got American civilians out, and then protected our second objective there, which was to continue to be able to reduce the risk that we ever had an attack on the homeland from that place. And so there were lots of work streams underneath that, one of which was the intra-Afghan conversations. So we spoke with the Taliban, we spoke with the Tajiks, we spoke with the Northern Alliance, folks in the West, we spoke with the Afghan government and had an agreement with the government— we were working to begin the peace and reconciliation process – an ugly, complex, almost certainly years-long endeavor. But at the same time, we made clear to the Taliban that here are our set of conditions. If you honor those conditions, we will honor ours, which is to draw down our forces. We we did that in a measured, step by step way, from about 15,000 to about 2,500. But we never got to the conditions where President Trump felt comfortable that we could go to zero and so we didn’t go to zero.”
Pompeo said that the Taliban repeatedly broke a February 2020 agreement that laid the groundwork for the broader withdrawal process—during Trump’s time in office and afterwards. When Trump was president, Pompeo said he would respond in force whenever the Taliban broke the terms of the agreement—but when Biden took over, Biden did not do anything when the Taliban kept violating the agreement.
“The Taliban broke the agreement a number of times during our time in office,” Pompeo said. “When they did that and when they would attack in a place that they were not permitted to, where they acted in a way that was inconsistent with their on-the-ground military obligations, we pounded them. This is the model when America’s interests aren’t protected, when people don’t honor their promises to the United States, you impose costs on them. We did that each and every time. And that repeated effort—that focused, organized, repeated, deliberative deterrence model that had held. And so everybody wants to say, well, what would have been different? I can’t promise you. I don’t know. This is counterfactual. But I can promise you this. We went down from 15,000 to 2,500. So we went down by 80 percent. And we still had the order and structure that helped provide the security for the Afghan people and the Afghan security force. We still had the capacity to reach out and impose costs on them for that entire time that we were engaged in that drawdown mission. There’s no reason to think that we couldn’t have continued to hold that until such time as the conditions were right where we could have gotten to zero.”
Pompeo told Breitbart News that there are several key differences between Biden’s botched withdrawal and what would have been a successful withdrawal under Trump. First, he said, the civilians needed to be evacuated first—before the military—and secondly, he said no weapons or other military hardware should have been left behind to fall into Taliban hands.
“Well, I start with this: we clearly would have endeavored to get every American civilian out,” Pompeo said. “The civilians leave before the folks with the firepower, the folks with the guns—this is just … this is common sense and military operations 101. Second, President Trump also made very clear it was important to him that the equipment get out. He would always talk about all of the equipment. Every last stitch. I can’t tell you how many times I heard him make clear to the military that had to be part of their strategic planning process as we wound down. They had started that while we were there, they’d begun to move material out—we always knew there would be buildings and things that would be tough to get out and you might have to blow them in place, but it was a … it was a part of the strategic conversation about how we were going to ultimately get to the reduced force posture levels. We wanted the civilians and the equipment out—and then and only then would we begin to take those last folks out, none of which would have happened until the conditions were right, until they had met the conditions. When we thought that those twin objectives could be achieved, making sure we weren’t attacked from this place again and second, getting our forces down to the lowest possible number.”
Pompeo’s September 2020 trip to Doha was to oversee intra-Afghan peace talks between the now-fallen Afghan government and the Taliban. Pompeo held separate meetings with representatives for both sides, including a meeting with the Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar—who now controls Afghanistan—in Qatar. The daylong summit, which came months later than originally expected because of the coronavirus pandemic, also featured meetings directly between the two sides—the Afghan government and Taliban—where they were supposed to be hammering out a power-sharing agreement.
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) September 12, 2020
While progress was made, it was not completed—and two months later Biden emerged as the victor in the presidential election in the United States, which seemingly stalled any talks between the two sides. Biden delayed a May 1 deadline under the Trump administration agreement until what was supposed to be a full withdrawal at the end of August right before the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks—a withdrawal that has gone horribly wrong as thousands of American citizens are stranded there after Taliban forces seized on Biden’s weakness to sweep into complete control of Afghanistan taking control of the capital Kabul and the presidential palace this past Sunday. As the week has progressed, Taliban leaders have engaged in a charm offensive, portraying themselves as a softer, gentler Taliban—a Taliban 2.0 if you will—that claims it would in its return to power not revert to the oppressive ways it operated under in the past 20 years ago before the United States invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks. Biden’s failures on this aside, Pompeo’s time in the drivers’ seat did give him insight into how the Taliban thinks and operates, as he did have multiple meetings with Baradar and saw firsthand the brutality of the Sharia-promoting Taliban movement. Asked if he thought from his time and meetings with the now-leader of Afghanistan, Baradar, if he thinks the Taliban’s new messaging can be trusted, Pompeo said to trust “none” of what they say.
“To the contrary, I have every reason to believe that this is for external consumption and perhaps to buy them some space and time,” Pompeo said. “There’s no reason to believe that these aren’t still the evil butchers that we’ve always seen them be.”
Asked if this would represent an external threat to the United States—the Pentagon confirmed on Friday that al Qaeda terrorists do still operate in Afghanistan, even after Biden lied and claimed the terrorist organization was gone from the country—Pompeo said it likely will. He did say that efforts by U.S. military forces over the past 20 years, however, wiped out a lot of al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan.
“Over 20 years, we had taken down that threat significantly, and I credit the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who did that really hard work. They are to be praised and blessed. Their efforts there were noble,” Pompeo said. “I don’t know what the administration has chosen to do to prevent what was our second prong of our mission set, which is to keep this threat from not just Al Qaeda but from ISIS, external operators, or from other radical Islamic terrorists—I can’t tell you what their decisions have been there. I know how we were thinking about it. I can’t talk about all of it. But we we had spent a lot of time trying to continue to reduce that threat. There are fewer than 200 pure al Qaeda in Afghanistan today. Today, their operational headquarters is in Tehran, not Afghanistan. So the threat posture is certainly different. And by the way, there are al Qaeda in Yemen, there are al Qaeda in Africa. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this terror threat is a global risk—we have to make sure we confront it, not just in Afghanistan, but every place we find it. So I do think if we get that piece wrong, and it appears that the collapse of the Afghan military because of the poor decision-making and planning of the Biden administration, it absolutely increases the risk of that whether it’s a month or six months or a year from now—that radical Islamic terrorists will have an ungoverned space in which to begin to plan and plot. And it will be even more difficult than it needed to be to measure these plots and make sure we’re able to interdict them, or take them down before they’re able to strike.”
Pompeo also said watching the contradicting commentary and miscommunication on this matter from Biden himself, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Secretary of State Tony Blinken, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and others in the Biden administration has been disheartening. Biden claimed on July 8 that what has happened would not happen—a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan—and has since claimed it was inevitable. Others, like Milley, have claimed there was no intelligence suggesting this—but reports of a dissent cable sent from diplomats in Kabul up the chain at the State Department, reports which have since been confirmed, as well as reports of a CIA assessment, both suggesting this would happen, directly undercut the Biden administration’s credibility.
“It’s entirely disingenuous to say that you didn’t understand that the risk of precisely what happened was measurable and real,” Pompeo said. “There were clearly—there was a dissent cable, that was clearly the minority view inside of that organization. I saw dissent cables. I always read them and always took on board their ideas, but they were dissent cables for a reason, because we were headed down a path that was different from the one that the dissenters wanted. And that’s their political judgment. They get to form those. But to say that you didn’t know this risk existed or that you didn’t need to plan for this very risk is just inconsistent with what I know to be true.”
Asked what he thinks is a proper historical comparison to the massive mistake over which Biden is presiding now—some have compared it to the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War, others have compared it to the Iranian hostage crisis, and others to the rise of ISIS or the lead-up to the 9/11 attacks—Pompeo said it seems a lot like the Iranian hostage crisis.
“I think of it in the larger context, where this feels like a failure of American leadership,” Pompeo said. “That strikes me as what happened in 1979, with our Americans being held in Tehran, you had a president that had made clear he didn’t want to underwrite a strong deterrence, a strong military. You had a president who had abandoned some of the central principles and that he had said, ‘Well, I’m going to do this different than President Nixon did.’ He had a political judgment that said that America wasn’t going to lead, but was going to apologize for all of its bad behavior around the world.”
Pompeo is concerned America’s adversaries—he specifically mentioned the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Russians—may sense weakness in Biden and take further action challenging the United States as a result.
“I think bad guys see these things, and I think they watch leadership,” Pompeo said. “And so when they begin to push—when the Taliban begins to push, just like the Iranians who pushed on our embassy, when they begin to push, if America retreats, then they will continue to push farther and they will ultimately drive a truck through this weakness. I think that’s what you saw. The larger implications—we saw this in 1979 as well—are that the world comes to not have confidence in the United States and our adversaries say that they can push us there. Whether that’s an effort that Putin might make to push in Ukraine or the Iranians might make to push their terror campaign even further into Europe or even further into the Middle East, these are the kinds of things that I worry about when American credibility and demonstrable willingness to use all of its power—not just its military capabilities, but all of its power to be brought to bear to protect American interests.”
Pompeo also said that the Taliban did what they did because its leaders do not fear Biden—but the movement behaved very differently under the last administration, because its leaders did fear Trump.
“The Taliban never changed their stripes—they didn’t change who they were,” Pompeo said. “But their actions did change. There were fewer strikes, there were fewer threats—and with respect to Americans in particular from the moment we signed the agreement onward, there wasn’t a single American killed. There wasn’t a single American that came under a serious Taliban attack against an American. That was a change from what had been taking place in the country before we went in, sat with him, told them what the conditions were and asked them to meet them, but made very clear that our ask was just the introduction. The reality on the ground was the thing that was going to matter. And each time they broke it, each time they posed a risk to either a vital Afghan institution that we had outlined for them or posed some risk that might eventually cause a problem for America, we crushed them. We put real costs on them. And we communicated pretty clearly to them too. ‘You did x, in response to x we did y— stop doing x.’ And, and we were able to develop a pattern in practice, which generated the deterrence model that you’re talking about.”