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Why the UK government can’t simply blame Joe Biden for the Afghanistan debacle

Boris Johnson and his ministers failed to anticipate the Afghan collapse or to grasp the US’s weariness with “forever wars”.

By Ailbhe Rea

Boris Johnson will lobby Joe Biden to extend the 31 August deadline for the final US withdrawal from Afghanistan at a virtual meeting of G7 leaders tomorrow, as mass evacuation efforts continue at Kabul airport.

The risk is that, without American troops at the airport beyond that date, the UK and other countries will be unable to continue airlifting people out of the country, leaving thousands of British and Afghan citizens behind. With Taliban checkpoints in place along the route to the airport, desperate citizens dying in the crush when they get there, and a growing threat that those trying to escape will be targeted by Islamic State terrorists, the military challenge is already extensive. Without the US, the fear is that it will become impossible.

British-American relations have deteriorated over the weekend, with British ministers now briefing anonymously against Joe Biden, complaining about the US’s lack of communication and that the US President came across as “doolally” in the press conference in which he defended the withdrawal.

The message from the British is that the US said it would do one thing and then did another, blindsiding the UK and leaving it uncertain as to how to approach the evacuation. These briefings frame the current situation as one in which Britain is doing all it can in the face of an increasingly unreliable and uncommunicative US. That is only to some extent true, omitting Britain’s rather serious failure to understand its ally’s ennui with “forever wars” and to anticipate the Afghan collapse.

The question is who these UK briefings are helping, and who they are harming. Are they designed to help understanding of the Afghan situation in the British press and pile pressure on the US to extend the deadline? Or are they mainly an attempt to exonerate the British government from more serious failures in the Afghan crisis before they have even happened?

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[see also: Boris Johnson’s government has no sense of decency or shame]