Leaked Biden phone call could create perception problems


On July 23rd, as Taliban insurgents were pushing through Afghanistan, President Joe Biden spoke to Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani. We only have a partial transcript of the Biden phone call. 

The leaders spoke for less than 14 minutes. The phone conversation has since been leaked to the press.

During the conversation, Ashraf Ghani was trying to inform Biden of the dire situation. And was begging for American support. He was warning that without US air support the Taliban and other “international terrorists” might not be stopped. 

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Ghani also told Biden that his military people were trying to negotiate with the Taliban and that wasn’t working. Biden didn’t update Ghani of any negotiations that the US had in place with the Taliban.

On July 1st the US abandoned Bagram Airforce Base in the middle of the night. There was no notice given to the Afghan general that was supposed to take control of the base after the US fled.

Biden seemed intent on getting the right political strategy and messaging techniques together. He was urging Ghani to change the public perception of what was happening on the ground. 

Worrying about messaging is troubling. Leaving Bagram without turning it over to the Afghans is also troubling. And in the call, Ghani is diplomatically saying that the US has been negotiating with the Taliban and not updating them. And that they stopped giving the Afghans air support long before the phone call. Actually, everything about the Biden phone call is troubling.

And the fact that Biden had not been closely coordinating with the Afghan president before the call makes you wonder. And it increases the perception that they had already been undercut by the US’s negotiations with the Taliban. 

Reuters Excerpt (Partial) of Biden Phone Call  

BIDEN Mr. President. Joe Biden.

GHANI Of course, Mr. President, such a pleasure to hear your voice.

BIDEN You know, I am a moment late. But I mean it sincerely. Hey look, I want to make it clear that I am not a military man any more than you are, but I have been meeting with our Pentagon folks, and our national security people, as you have with ours and yours, and as you know and I need not tell you the perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things aren’t going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban.

And there’s a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.

BIDEN If you empower Bismillah [Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi] to execute a strategy focused on key parts of the population centers, and 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…[unclear].. our allies and folks here in the States and other places think you’re doing.

You clearly have the best military, 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 what we are doing. And all the way through the end of August, and who knows what after that.

We are also going to continue to make sure your air force is capable of continuing to fly and provide air support. 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. And though I know this is presumptuous of me, on one hand, to say such things so directly to you, I have known you for a long while, I find you a brilliant and honorable man.

But I really think, I don’t know whether you’re aware, just how much the perception around the world is that this is looking like a losing proposition, which it is not, not that it necessarily is that but so the conclusion I’m asking you to consider is to bring together everyone from [Former Vice President Abdul Rashid] Dostum, to [Former President Hamid] Karzai and in between if they stand there and say they back the strategy you put together and put a warrior in charge, you know a military man, [Defense Minister Bismillah] Khan in charge of executing that strategy, and that will change perception, and that will change an awful lot I think.

GHANI Mr. President, we are facing a full-scale invasion, composed of Taliban, full Pakistani planning and logistical support, and at least 10-15,000 international terrorists, predominantly Pakistanis was thrown into this, so that dimension needs to be taken into account.

Second, what is crucial is, close air support, and if I could make a request, you have been very generous, if your assistance, particularly to our air force be front-loaded, because what we need at this moment, there was a very heavy reliance on airpower, and we have prioritized that if it could be at all front-loaded, we will greatly appreciate it.

And third, regarding the procedure for the rest of the assistance, for instance, military pay has not increased for over a decade. We need to make some gestures to rally everybody together so if you could assign the national security advisor or the Pentagon, anyone you wish to work with us on the details, so our expectations particularly regarding your close air support. 

There are agreements with the Taliban that we are not previously aware of, and because your air force was extremely cautious in attacking them.

And the last point, I just spoke again to Dr. Abdullah earlier, he went to negotiate with the Taliban, the Taliban showed no inclination. We can get to peace only if we rebalance the military situation. And I can assure you…