In November 2020, as Donald Trump was falsely declaring in public that he’d won the presidential election, he privately ordered a rapid withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan and Somalia — attempting to fulfill a long-held plan and ensure a mess for President-elect Joe Biden.
On Thursday, the House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump demonstrators on Jan. 6, 2021, highlighted Trump’s move as evidence that he knew he was spreading a dangerous lie.
“Knowing he had lost and that he had only weeks in office, President Trump rushed to complete his unfinished business,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), one of the two Republicans on the congressional committee, said during a televised hearing. “One key example is this: President Trump issued an order for large-scale U.S. troop withdrawals.”
Trump issued the directive on Nov. 11, 2020. Axios reporters Jonathan Swan and Zachary Basu revealed the existence of the memo last year. Jan. 6 committee investigators confirmed that Trump personally approved the proposal, and that his top national security staff thought it would spell disaster. On Thursday, the committee played footage from the relevant interviews.
“If I ever saw something like that, I would do something physical, because I thought what that was doing was a tremendous disservice to the nation,” Keith Kellogg, who was the national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence at the time, told the committee. “An immediate departure that that memo said would have been catastrophic ... It would have been a debacle.”
John McEntee, who was one of Trump’s closest aides, told committee investigators he drafted the order along with an aide, and that he secured the president’s signature on the memo. The proposal called for stunning speed: Trump wanted thousands of troops removed from two complex war-torn countries before Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021.
Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the investigators he viewed Trump’s pitch as “nonstandard [and] potentially dangerous.”
“I personally thought it was militarily not feasible nor wise,” Milley said.
Trump “disregarded concerns about the consequences for fragile governments on the front lines of the fight against ISIS and al Qaeda terrorists,” Kinzinger said Thursday. “These are the highly consequential actions of a president who knows his term will shortly end.”
Milley, then-national security adviser Robert O’Brien, and then-acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller united against the order and convinced Trump to withdraw it, according to Axios. Ultimately, Miller announced on Nov. 17 that the U.S. would reduce its Afghanistan presence from 4,500 troops to 2,500.
The following year, when Biden announced a full American withdrawal from Afghanistan in April and completed it five months later, Republicans blasted Biden.
Close Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Biden should have been impeached over Afghanistan’s collapse amid the withdrawal, and called his policy “the most dishonorable thing a commander in chief has done in modern times.”
But Trump’s plan would likely have resulted in even greater instability in Afghanistan — completely blindsiding the U.S.-backed government and international allies — and a greater risk to American personnel, who would have had far less time to draw down the bigger deployment that was there at the time.
Alyssa Farah Griffin, a former Trump administration official, highlighted the inconsistency on Twitter Thursday.
“As someone who remains highly critical of Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal, I’d be curious to hear [defenses] on the Right of Trump’s order for an even hastier withdrawal,” she wrote.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.