President Biden pressured Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani to create the “perception” that the Taliban weren’t winning, “whether it’s true or not,” in a phone call just three weeks before the insurgents seized control of the country, a bombshell leaked transcript shows.
Biden and Ghani spoke for roughly 14 minutes on July 23 in what would be their final call before the Taliban overran the government and Afghanistan descended into bloody chaos amid the botched US withdrawal, according to a transcript and audio obtained by Reuters.
Much of the call was focused on what Biden referred to as the Afghan government’s “perception” issue.
“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.
“And there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.”
At the time, the Taliban had already seized about half of the country’s district centers and was only weeks away from taking Kabul on Aug. 15.
Biden told Ghani that Afghanistan’s prominent political figures — including former Afghan President Hamid Karzai — should give a joint press conference that backed a new military strategy on how to defeat the Taliban, saying: “That will change perception, and that will change an awful lot, I think.”
“I’m not a military guy, so I’m not telling you what that plan should precisely look like, you’re going to get not only more help, but you’re going to get a perception that is going to change in terms of how , um … our allies and folks here in the States and other places think you’re doing,” Biden said.
Biden also heaped praise on Afghan security forces — which were trained and funded by the US before dissolving in a matter of weeks amid the US withdrawal — and offered aid if Ghani could publicly put out a plan that showed he could control the spiraling situation.
“You clearly have the best military,” Biden said. “You have 300,000 well-armed forces versus 70, 80,000 and they’re clearly capable of fighting well.
“We will continue to provide close air support, if we know what the plan is … And all the way through the end of August, and who knows what after that.
“In addition to that, we are going to continue to fight hard, diplomatically, politically, economically, to make sure your government not only survives, but is sustained and grows because it is clearly in the interest of the people of Afghanistan that you succeed and you lead.”
Biden’s tone throughout the call suggests he did not expect the collapse of the Afghan government just three weeks later.
Ghani fled as the Taliban seized control of Kabul on Aug. 15.
Since then, tens of thousands have fled the country, and 13 US service members and almost 200 Afghans were killed in a suicide bombing at Kabul airport during the final days of Biden’s chaotic mass evacuations that ended Monday.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment on Biden’s call with Ghani.
In a readout of Biden and Ghani’s call, the White House only said at the time that the two leaders “discussed the situation in Afghanistan and reaffirmed their commitment to an enduring bilateral partnership.”
“The two leaders discussed the importance of Afghans coming together to support their common interest in security and peace, and President Biden underscored continued US diplomatic engagement in support of a durable and just political settlement,” the readout said.