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CNS' Afghan Withdrawal Strategy

In reporting on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, made sure to blame President Biden for everything that went wrong, bash him for his response to a suicide bombing, and deflect all blame from Donald Trump.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 11/1/2021

Patrick Goodenough

As the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan led to the unexpectedly quick takeover of the country, knew what it had to do, besides blaming President Biden: absolve and deflect President Trump from blame for his role, given that his administration negotiated the peace and withdrawal deal with the Taliban that Biden was carrying out.

In an Aug. 13 article, Patrick Goodenough -- who has been CNS' leader in defending Trump after his departure from office -- touted a Trump statement in which he claimed that “I personally had discussions with top Taliban leaders whereby they understood what they are doing now would not have been acceptable,” then tried to defend Trump's Taliban deal:

In fact, the U.S.-Taliban agreement did make the withdrawal of U.S. forces by May 1 contingent on the Taliban meeting certain obligations: It declared as “interconnected” and “interrelated” the timeline for the troop withdrawal on one hand, and on the other a Taliban commitment to “prevent the use of the soil of Afghanistan by any group or individual against the security of the United States and its allies.”

The agreement did also call for a “permanent and comprehensive ceasefire,” but to be negotiated and agreed upon in “intra-Afghan” talks. Those talks have yet to produce an agreement.

On Aug. 15, Goodenough highlighted how "Chuck Todd pointed out that Biden has walked away from other decisions he inherited from the Trump administration that he considered 'bad,'" then hyped a right-wing activist dragging Barack Obama and Benghazi into the argument:

Pushing back at the blame-Trump talking points, Heritage Foundation vice president for foreign and defense policy studies James Jay Carafano said Biden “can make all the excuses and spin all the narratives he wants, but a narrative can’t stop a bullet.”

“The situation did not collapse until he withdrew troops – and it is impossible not to conclude this happened because of what he decided.”

Carafano placed the decision in the broader context of the “Obama-Biden foreign policy,” recalling the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq at the end of 2011 – and resulting rise of ISIS – and a response to the Libya crisis which, he said, included “the spiraling decline in the security situation until our diplomatic facilities in Benghazi were smoking ruins.”

Susan Jones did more of her usual editorializing in an Aug. 16 "news" article:

From the moment he took office on January 20, President Joe Biden began signing a flurry of executive orders to undo or reverse many of the policies instituted by President Trump.

But Biden did not scrap Trump's plan to withdraw all remaining troops from Afghanistan. And in a statement on Saturday, Biden -- who has not been seen since his departure for Camp David on Friday -- blamed Trump for the mess he "inherited."

Jones then uncritically repeated Trump and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defending the peace deal with the Taliban and excluding the Afghan government from taking part.

Later that day, Jones complained that Republicans Ben Sasse and Liz Cheney criticized Trump's role in setting up the situation in Afghanistan, and that Cheney reminded people that Trump had at one time invited the Taliban to meet with him at Camp David.

Craig Bannister complained on Aug. 17:

In a speech on Monday, President Joe Biden blamed his predecessor, Donald Trump, and the Afghan people, for his administration’s botched withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the rapid takeover of the country’s capital by Taliban forces.

As a candidate, however, Biden repeatedly promised that, if elected, he would “take responsibility” and not blame others.

In fact, Biden said in the speech that "I stand squarely behind my decision," adding that "Nor will I shrink from my share of responsibility for where we are today and how we must move forward from here. I am President of the United States of America, and the buck stops with me." Meaning that he did, in fact, take responsibility for how the withdrawal played out, which does not preclude him for pointing out that Trump felt the need to negotiate with the Taliban.

Two days later, Bannister was back defending Trump's Taliban deal:

The Taliban committed to honor five conditions stipulated in the agreement it signed with the United States on February 29, 2020 regarding the planned U.S. withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

As the Associated Press reported at the time, in the deal struck by President Donald Trump’s State Department, the Taliban promised to oppose terrorist threats to the U.S. and thwart efforts by terrorist groups seeking to establish a safe have in Afghanistan, while the U.S. agreed to withdraw its troops by May of 2021:

Bannister later touted how "On Tuesday, Trump said that President Joe Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will go down as one of the most disastrous evacuations in world history." His article was weirdly illustrated with a file photo of Trump awkwardly hugging a flag.

On Aug. 23, Melanie Arter served up more uncritical defense of Trump's Taliban deal from a former Trump official:

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley equated negotiating with the Taliban to negotiating with the devil, but “you have to negotiate with the devil from a point of strength,” and the United States has no leverage with the Taliban right now, she told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.


“Well, I think let's be clear, President Trump very much wanted to see soldiers come out of Afghanistan, so it's not about soldiers coming out. It's not what you do. It's how you do it. He would never have pulled our soldiers out without making sure Americans and all of our equipment and our weaponry was out beforehand,” Haley said.

“He would never have allowed the Taliban to take over Afghanistan without conditions. So anyone that wants to say this was already set in motion, it's not what was going to happen. It was how it happened, and this happened in the most embarrassing, humiliating way that has-- really angers soldiers like my husband and all those that-- that sacrificed,” she said.

Arter followed up on Aug. 26 with an article claiming that Biden "said Thursday that he bears responsibility for what “happened of late” in the Afghanistan withdrawal, but he blamed former President Donald Trump for making a deal with the Taliban in the first place to withdraw U.S. forces from the region by May 1," repeating an exchange Biden had with biased Fox News reporter Peter Doocy.

In a Sept. 1 article, Bannister uncritically repeated claims by retired general and Fox News talking head Jack Keane that "Biden not only misrepresented former Pres. Trump’s conditions-based deal with the Taliban, but also 'blew off those conditions, just like he blew off the military advice and intelligence advice,' in order to set an arbitrary withdrawal deadline of August 31."

Repeated attacks on Biden

In addition to defending former President Trump over his cutting the deal with the Taliban that led to U.S. withdrawal, CNS went relentlessly negative on Biden, filling its website with increasingly vicious and personal attacks from Republicans, former Trump administration officials and other conservatives on President Biden and his administration. Here's a list of the attacks CNS published between Aug. 12 and Sept. 1:

Needless to say, there is no similarly long list of stories at CNS of people defending Biden. And pretty much all of these attacks are presented as "news" with no attempt to balance them, despite CNS' mission statement to "fairly present all legitimate sides of a story."

CNS claims to be a "news" organization. It has shown here that it's little more than a stenography service for conservatives.

Partisan attack on suicide attack response

CNS served up three articles on President Biden's remarks after a pair of suicide attacks outside the Kabul airport on Aug. 26. The first was a basic stenography piece by Melanie Arter under the headline "Biden: ‘We Will Hunt You Down and Make You Pay’." The second, written by Susan Jones under the headline "Biden: 'These ISIS Terrorists Will Not Win.'," included the objective journalism-violating editorial comment that Jones is known for, touting the suicide attacks as "a propaganda victory at the very least" and after noting that Biden he ordered his commanders to "develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership, and facilities," sneered, "Those plans, then, are just now being developed." Jones also made sure to add Republican criticism: "Long before Biden's disastrous exit from Afghanistan began, a number of politicians and pundits were warning that terrorists are exploiting Biden's lifting of restrictions at the southern U.S. border."

The third, by Craig Bannister, cherry-picked Biden to make him look like a weak leader, under the biased headline "Biden: We Will Respond to the Terrorist Attack, Someday":

Addressing Americans following Thursday’s deadly Kabul Airport bombing, President Joe Biden promised that the U.S. will strike back at the terrorists responsible, at some point.

Biden said that the U.S. will strike back at the terrorists, someday, whenever it chooses to do so:
“I’ve also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership, and facilities.

“We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose, and the moment of our choosing.”
Last Friday, however, Pres. Biden vowed there would be a “swift” military response to “any attack on our forces or disruption of our operations at the airport”:

The next day, the U.S. launched a drone strike against ISIS-K militants but CNS didn't bother to report on it immediately. It was only after the second day of drone strikes that CNS' Patrick Goodenough felt compelled to write about the response his employer initially mocked:

For the second time in two days, the U.S. military on Sunday carried out an unmanned airstrike targeting suspected ISIS-K terrorists, destroying a vehicle in Kabul which it said posed an imminent threat to the Kabul airport where the U.S.-led evacuation mission is drawing to a close.

“We are confident we successfully hit the target,” U.S. Central Command spokesman U.S. Navy Capt. Bill Urban said in a statement. “Secondary explosions from the vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.”

But even then -- apparently under orders to put a negative spin on things -- Goodenough felt compelled to portray the drone strikes as a possible failure by emphasizing the possibilities of civilian casualties:

“We are assessing the possibilities of civilian casualties, though we have no indications at this time,” he said. “We remain vigilant for potential future threats.”

Hours later, Urban in an updated statement said the military was aware of reports of civilian casualties, suggesting they may have resulted from the secondary explosions, rather than the initial strike on the vehicle.
Goodenough did something similar to the Biden administration earlier this year -- complaining that Biden hadn't acted quickly enough in responding to Russian misdeed, then virtually ignored it when Biden did respond the day after his complaint appeared.

Incredulously, CNS then decided to fixate on criticizing that response. It first focused on whether the drone strikes killed civilians -- a Sept. 14 article by Melanie Arter hyped that "Secretary of State Antony Blinken admitted on Tuesday that the Biden administration is reviewing whether the U.S. military killed an aide worker or an ISIS-K terrorist in the drone strike in Afghanistan in retaliation for the murders of 13 U.S. military members. That was followed by a Sept. 16 article by Arter that sought to push the narrative that the drone strikes were ineffective and killed civilians:

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that there is always an investigation when a drone strike “could have impacted innocent civilians,” which is why the Biden administration is investigating the drone strikes in Afghanistan last month that targeted ISIS-K terrorists.

“How much confidence does the president have that the drone strikes in Afghanistan have killed ISIS militants?” a reporter asked Psaki.

“How much confidence in which aspect of it?” Psaki asked.

“How much confidence does he have that the drone strikes killed the targets that were intended to be ISIS fighters, as opposed to innocent victims on the street? And does he take responsibility if the innocent victims were killed?” the reporter asked.

“Well, first, there is an investigation that’s ongoing, as there always is in any event of drone strikes that could have impacted innocent civilians, and the United States takes incredibly seriously our role in preventing civilian casualties whenever we possibly can. So, I’m going to let that play out,” Psaki said.

CNS devoted an anonymously written Sept. 17 article to intoning that "Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin issued a statement this afternoon saying that the drone strike that the U.S. military launched at a vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 29—with the intent of killing ISIS-K terrorists—ended up killing ten people who were not terrorists, including 7 children." The same day, an article by Arter highlighted CENTCOM Commander Kenneth McKenzie taking responsibility for the civilian deaths.

Patrick Goodenough went on another petty, partisan angle of attack in a Sept. 20 article:

The Pentagon has yet to release the names of two individuals killed in an airstrike in Afghanistan last month, two days before a second airstrike near Kabul airport which killed not an ISIS-K terrorist but ten civilians, seven of them children.

The August 27 unmanned strike in Nangarhar province came a day after terrorists killed 13 U.S. service personnel and more than 160 Afghan civilians in a suicide bomb and gunfire attack at Kabul airport, where the evacuation mission was underway.

More than three weeks since the Nangarhar strike, the identities of the two people, described by Pentagon officials as “high-profile” ISIS-K “planners” and “facilitators,” remain unknown.

Showing his partisanship, Goodenough invoked the conservative Heritage Foundation to support his demand that the killed terrorists be identified. He later added an update of another Pentagon official who wouldn't name names.

The Pentagon did eventually name one killed terrorist, and Goodenough had a complaining article about that on Sept. 26:

The Pentagon has named one of two men killed in an airstrike in Afghanistan a month ago, describing him as an ISIS-K attack “facilitator” who was “directly connected” to the ISIS-K leaders who coordinated the terror attack at Kabul airport that killed 13 U.S. service personnel and more than 160 Afghan civilians.

U.S. Central Command spokesman Army Maj. John Rigsbee said in a statement Kabir Aidi (also known as “Mustafa”) had been directly connected to the threats facing the U.S.-military led evacuation mission at the airport, including “the reported distribution of explosives and suicide vests.”


Rigsbee’s statement did not name – or refer to – the second person killed in the August 27 drone strike in Nangarhar province. The Pentagon at the time described the two as “high-profile” ISIS-K “planners” and “facilitators.”

For almost a month after the Nangarhar strike, the Department of Defense declined to name the two men, although it said their identities were known.

The refusal to do so began to raise more questions after CENTCOM’s admission following an inquiry that a second drone strike, carried out near Kabul airport on August 29, had killed ten civilians, seven of them children, and not an ISIS-K terrorist as initially reported.

As recent as September 20, a Pentagon spokesman maintained that the information on the Nangarhar targets was “classified.”

Goodenough rehashed that "President Biden vowed that the U.S. would hunt down those responsible and make them pay" -- but didn't mention the fact that his employer mocked Biden's declaration as coming "someday" and that Biden's response came the day after that mocking.

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