US President Joe Biden strongly encouraged Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to cook up the “perception” that the Taliban did not have the upper hand – “whether it’s true or not” – in a phone call that came only three weeks before the Islamist group took over the country, according to a leaked transcript detailed in the New York Post.
Biden spoke to Ghani for approximately 14 minutes on July 23. It was their last phone communication before the Taliban overthrew the Afghan government, throwing the country into panic as the US hastily withdrew American troops.
Most of the phone call consisted of Biden speaking about the Afghan government’s “perception” issue, according to the transcript of the audio, which was obtained by Reuters.
“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 told Ghani. “And there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.”
Biden urged Ghani to assemble the country’s top political figures – including former Afghan President Hamid Karzai – in a joint press conference supporting a new military strategy that would defeat the Taliban.
The American President remarked that such a measure would “change perception, and that will change an awful lot I think.”
While praising US-trained Afghan security forces, Biden offered help to the Afghan leader if he could put out a public plan that appeared to show he would be able to change course and defeat the Taliban.
“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,” Biden said. “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.”
Biden also offered 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.”
On the day of the conversation, the Taliban had already begun its push to take over the country, having seized nearly half of the country’s major population centers. Weeks later, on August 15, the Taliban occupied Kabul.
Biden’s tone of voice during the call reportedly does not project that he believed the Afghan government was in danger of falling so suddenly a mere few weeks later.
When the Taliban took over Kabul, Ghani fled the city.