Chris Miller, Donald Trump’s last acting defense secretary, claimed this week that the former president’s pledge to pull all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan by May 1 was merely a negotiating tactic.
If Miller’s account is true, it boosts the claim that Trump would have handled withdrawal far more carefully than President Joe Biden is doing now. On the other hand, the revelation stains Trump’s record on supporting the end of “forever wars” — a major plank of his campaign platform.
WHAT’S HE SAYING
In an interview with Defense One published on Wednesday, Miller said Trump’s promise to the American public to withdraw by May 1 – a deadline the administration negotiated with the Taliban – was a “play” in a grander plan:
- According to Miller, the Trump administration wanted to convince Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to either resign or accept a power-sharing agreement with the Taliban.
- Under the terms of the agreement the new government, consisting primarily of Taliban officials, would permit a small number of U.S. troops – approximately 80o-850 – to remain in the country as a counter-terrorism force and to support the Afghan military.
- Miller told Defense One that several top national security officials in the Trump administration believed it was possible to avoid a total withdrawal of U.S. forces.
Money quote: “There was going to be a new government. The Taliban wouldn’t exist as an independent entity. That deal is no longer valid. The whole idea was they would agree,” Miller said, regarding extending the presence of American troops in the region. “We would have called it ‘security assistance,’ so that they could save face, but we were going to maintain a [counterterrorism] strike and reconnaissance capability.”
At least one Trump administration official disputed Miller’s account, according to Defense One.
- Meanwhile, some military experts disagreed with the viability of the strategy described by the former defense secretary.
- “Based on my counterterrorism experience, several thousand U.S. personnel are necessary inside Afghanistan to conduct the intelligence and operational activities needed for reasonable confidence that we could thwart the creation of a new terrorist ‘safe-haven’ capable of transnational terrorist attacks,” Mike Nagata, a retired three-star Army general and former director of strategic operational planning at the National Counterterrorism Center, told Defense One in reference to Miller’s assertion that only 800 to 850 troops would need to remain.
- “However, this is unrelated to what would be needed to sustain the ability of the Afghan government to secure their own population and territory from the Taliban,” Nagata added.