Mr. Bush did not publicly second-guess Mr. Biden’s decision.
“As he has maintained since leaving office, President Bush would refuse to make private phone calls or comment on his successors,” said Freddie Ford, his chief of staff.
A series of Afghan governments have failed to maintain control over vast sections of the country, the essence of the US military’s “clear, hold, build” strategy for the years following the initial invasion. While a succession of Afghan leaders, supported by the United States and its allies, promised to fight corruption, end the drug crisis, and establish stable governance, all of those gains have proved to be the best.
Women have played a more important role in government, and girls have been educated on a scale not seen before the war began, but if the Taliban gains more ground, the future of those benefits is in doubt.
In a statement on Twitter, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said that his country “respects America’s decision and we will ensure a smooth transition together with our American allies.” He said that his country’s security forces were “fully capable of defending their people.”
But privately, Mr. Ghani has spoken about the American decision, which people have talked to him about. He fears it will embrace the Taliban, and will not give him any incentive to stick to the terms of the agreement reached a year ago with Mr. Trump. And many around Mr. Ghani fear that his own government, already subdued under influence, could collapse if the Taliban decided to try to take over the capital, Kabul.
“Just because we move away from Afghanistan does not mean ending the war,” said Lisa Curtis, a top Trump national security official who dealt with Afghanistan. “It probably gets worse.”
Mr. Biden is the first president to have rejected the Pentagon’s recommendations that any withdrawal must be “based on conditions,” meaning that Americans must assure security on the ground before pulling back. Otherwise, military officials have long argued, the Taliban would have to signal that they only let the Americans wait – after which they would have to resist a little to take further control, and perhaps threaten Kabul.