The following is the full transcript of an interview with Hamdullah Mohib, national security adviser under former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, that aired Sunday, December 19, 2021, on "Face the Nation."
MARGARET BRENNAN: It has been just over four months since the Taliban seized Kabul and American troops pulled out of Afghanistan. The WHO estimates one million Afghan children under the age of five will die of starvation this winter. When Kabul fell, the elected President Ashraf Ghani, fled along with his closest aides, including his National Security Adviser, Hamdullah Mohib. Mohib is with us now for his first interview. It's good to have you here.
HAMDULLAH MOHIB: Thank you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Why are you in Washington?
MOHIB: Well, I'm here to see people, friends and colleagues, former colleagues to talk about what happened and what to do next and how to help our people.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You are looking for a role in Afghanistan?
MARGARET BRENNAN: What are you trying to do to help?
MOHIB: Well, like you said, people are still starving, and our responsibility to the Afghan people has not ended. It's- we're not- no longer the Republic, the Islamic Republic that serve the people. But I feel like we still owe it to the Afghan people to make sure that this suffering ends.
MARGARET BRENNAN: There's a lot to get to with you. Let's start on what happened. The war was a strategic failure for the United States. The withdrawal was chaotic. It was deadly. It was a political crisis for this president. President Biden puts the blame, though, squarely on your government. Do you accept any of that blame?
MOHIB: Look, there is enough blame to go around. Obviously, the Afghan government and the people responsible for running the Afghan government are- are responsible, but so are our partners in the international community, and we all have a blame to share.
MARGARET BRENNAN: When you say those running the government, you mean President Ghani, who you served, and yourself?
MOHIB: Myself included. Absolutely, yes. We all have blame to share. I think it's important to see why and where it started. You know, there are- there is a lot of focus on one day on what happened in one day, instead of broadening and saying, "What led to the decisions that were made that day and why we had to be- we had to choose to make those decisions? And why were those decisions so narrow? I mean, why- what happened and what led to it?" And I would like to talk about that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to talk about that day.
MARGARET BRENNAN: When you left Kabul and the broader issue. But I want to address something that the president of this country told the American people when he was speaking about Afghanistan. Listen.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight. We gave them every tool they could need. We provided close air support. We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you make of that assessment, did you lack the will?
MOHIB: Absolutely not. The Afghan people made tremendous sacrifices for Afghanistan. I think it's- it would be dishonor to take that away. What happened was the rug was pulled under the Afghans' feet. The decision to talk directly and engage the Taliban and make a deal with the Taliban that didn't include the Afghan government was protested – myself, in this city, about what was going to happen to our government, what was going to happen to us--
MARGARET BRENNAN: That was the U.S. agreement under the Trump administration with the Taliban that the Biden administration honored.
MOHIB: – Exactly. And those decisions- that decision to talk directly to the Taliban without the presence of the Afghan government and then the full transparency with the Afghan government led to the collapse that happened on- on August 15th. For three years, our hands were tied behind our back. We were not allowed to fight. There was no offensive in 2018 and 2019. The Trump administration's policy that was the South Asia strategy was doing wonders. It was helping us push the Taliban back. In 2019, there was a whole offensive planned to push the Taliban, and it would have given us a part to, not a total military victory, but given us close to getting what we wanted –
MARGARET BRENNAN: But the Taliban was gaining control in parts of the country.
MOHIB: – No.
MARGARET BRENNAN: They were gaining ground.
MOHIB: 2019, we started taking- pushing Daesh out of the east, eastern Nangarhar. There was no fighting in Kunar, in the- in the north, the offensives were planned and then- and then that's when the support stopped. So we stopped receiving the kind of support that was necessary to be able to continue those offensive operations. In 2020, when the deal was signed, there was no offensive on the part of the Afghan government. We were told if you announce an offensive against the Taliban, you would be seen as warmongers, and the Taliban continued to strike the Afghan security forces throughout the country. They had an agreement to say there will be no attacks on city centers and district centers, but all of the outposts around the city and district centers that were protecting it were being targeted, and our hands were tied. We were not- we're not able to- to announce an offensive that year. In 2020- 2021 all they had was district centers left. So from 2019, the collapse of the Afghan government started. In 2020, it gained momentum. In 2021, it was the end. They were at city centers fighting. I think the Afghan security forces fought bravely and defended what they could. But when- when there was no more, when nothing was left, including the supplies of their ammunition, we ran out of all kinds of ammo for our air force. We didn't have any kind of laser guided missiles anymore. And so they were our aircraft were grounded and we didn't have the close air support that we needed from the international community, including the United States--
MARGARET BRENNAN: You are talking about now under the Biden administration?
MOHIB: This is this year, this is 2021. Our- our fixed aircraft, a fixed wing aircraft, didn't have the ammunition necessary to be able to- to fight. So I think- and when the contractors withdrew, or the contractors were withdrawing from- they- they were doing everything for the Afghan war from a logistical perspective that there was still a huge amount of dependency. The Afghan security forces could fight, but only when they had everything they needed.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So what you are talking about is unpacking years of strategy, bringing up to this point. I want to go to the day. You say there's too much focus on it, but I think we have to talk about it first. You were known as President Ghani's closest aide. Where is he now?
MOHIB: He is in the UAE.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Is it true that the Emirati government has told him and has told you that you can't be involved with politics any longer?
MOHIB: No, in– if we are living and we are hosted by the- in the government of the United Arab Emirates, they don't want any political activity and that's their- that's their rule. Yeah. So while we are there, we would have to respect their policy.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Your last day in Afghanistan was on August the 15th. That was the day that the Taliban seized control. They were already in the city. By the end of the day, they had seized control. Did you have any idea when you woke up that morning that you would be fleeing the country?
MARGARET BRENNAN: When did–
MOHIB: In fact, the night before, my staff contacted me and asked if we would- if we should start shredding and burning sensitive documents, and we, I didn't believe that it would be so, so soon. We still thought there's two more weeks. And the Taliban had at least two more weeks until the U.S. presence in Kabul, and we had received the day before a briefing from our chief of army staff. Plus, he was accompanied by Admiral Vasely. And, you know, the charge de' and the chief of station in Kabul. And so they, you know, our chief of army staff said that he had fully coordinated with the Americans, and that they will be able to defend Kabul, so much so that there were even plans to push back from Kabul against the territory that we have lost. But by this stage, we had several cities and provinces around Kabul that were still under Afghan government control. We had Nangarhar, we had Laghman, we had Wardak. These are provinces that are around- around Kabul. But by that morning, by four a.m. that morning, we had lost all of those provinces, plus a key district in Kabul, Sarubi, that was gone to the Taliban. In the night before, the Taliban even tried to break into Pul-e-Charkhi prison, which is inside now, all- inside Kabul city. But it was previously in Deh Sabz district, one of the districts.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you woke up that morning knowing that the Taliban is essentially knocking on the door of the capital.
MARGARET BRENNAN: When did you decide to flee?
MOHIB: Well, about 2:30 pm. The decision–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Why?
MOHIB: By that stage, I was supposed to leave to Doha to- to- to be part of the negotiating team. But the news that came in at that point made me understand that we no longer have- no longer have a consolidated force, and based on the discussions I have had with the president before that, if the fight comes to Kabul and it's a fight that we have to do inside Kabul cities- city, we would no longer do that fight.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Just for- for those watching: in Doha, Qatar, there are negotiations happening, led by the United States, with the Taliban trying to have a peaceful transfer of power. That's where you were headed.
MOHIB: That's where we were headed. Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But then what changed?
MOHIB: I- I heard from- first of all, all day long, we were getting news and the situation was getting worse, because the forces, the consolidation of forces had no longer been in- in- in the say, in control. There was no single power to control it. Most of them had abandoned their posts. Kabul was a city that was not ready for that kind of fighting. It was a city and its security forces could do crimes. But they weren't ready to fight against the Taliban in a battle- in that. So we- we saw the police and many other forces abandoning their posts and not turning up to work that day. But what happened at 2:30 was that I got the news that two helicopters, one that was part of the president's fleet, was hijacked by a rogue ANDSF element. And then another was shot.
MARGARET BRENNAN: A rogue soldier?
MOHIB: Yes. And another was shot, another helicopter that was supposed to go and pick up the- the minister of defense was shot. And based on what had happened the week before, another- and when Herat fell, the leadership that was present there, including Ismail Khan and the deputy chief, the deputy minister of interior, were not allowed to fly by ANDSF to evacuate to Bamiyan. I understood that this is the end, that even the airport is no longer secure for- for the Afghan president or anyone else around, and the fight is now going to be inside the city. And that was the time when I have made that decision. Obviously, it is difficult for- for people who don't know the context to be able to understand, you know what, what transpired. But we had taken every step possible to see whether there was the possibility of resistance outside of Kabul, even if it- it came down to it. And all of those possibilities were eliminated. And that was the only thing left that the president could do to save lives and to ensure that there were still American troops left to be able to secure, because they were in the negotiations. It wasn't the Afghans that were negotiating anymore.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you- at 2:30, you walk up to President Ghani and you say what?
MOHIB: I tell him, "It's time to leave, sir."
MARGARET BRENNAN: Why?
MOHIB: Because there was no other decision left for him to do. Right?
MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you think would have happened if you'd stayed?
MOHIB: Well, fighting would have ensued. We had- we had two weeks, we could have continued fighting inside Kabul, destroy most of the city, and thousands of people–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Who would have been fighting, though? You're describing forces melting away.
MOHIB: Forces, well, whatever forces were left. We so- we did this in Helmand, for example. For two weeks, a very small area was under Afghan government control and the forces fought bravely. We had a few special forces fighting, and they were- were they were provided with air cover, both by the Americans and our Air Force, and they were all able to hold for two weeks. But what transpired was that Helmand turned into the kind of pictures you would see coming out of Aleppo. Thousands of families were displaced from Lashkar Gah. Some went to Kandahar. Most came to Kabul. We, in the end, had to then make a deal to- to evacuate the forces that were there, so that this would have been a repeat of Helmand in Kand- in Kabul, but on a much larger scale. Because here you know, this is a city of five million people and now even more crowded because of all the refugees, internally displaced people that have come from other parts of the country out of war.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you know, you are harshly criticized, as is President Ghani, for choosing to flee that day.
MOHIB: We had to make a decision that was right for Afghanistan.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What did you take with you on that plane? You know, there's been allegations of corruption and that money was taken.
MOHIB: Look, those are allegations that our people know no person with the right mind would believe. The decision to leave was a very last minute decision. In other- other president's trips, there would be a lot more resources that- that would support a trip. We didn't even carry anything like that because this wasn't- this wasn't –
MARGARET BRENNAN: You didn't take cash with you?
MOHIB: Absolutely not. No.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What did you take with you?
MOHIB: We didn't- we just took ourselves. Most of the people that came on that flight ended up having to, you know, having- didn't even have another- a change of clothes. So in- in- in Uzbekistan and in the Emirates, even for the president, we had to buy him a change of clothes in Termez--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Which is where you went next?
MOHIB: Which is where- yeah--
MARGARET BRENNAN: You took helicopters from the presidential palace to another country--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --to Uzbekistan--
MOHIB: To Uzbek--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --to- to flee.
MOHIB: To Termez.
MARGARET BRENNAN: There are reports that you had to fly at low altitude because you were trying to avoid the Americans knowing that you were fleeing.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Why?
MOHIB: Trust was gone. There was no trust.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What did you think the Americans were going to do?
MOHIB: Well, look, you know, for those of us that were there and present, I had asked the Americans for something simple the day before. And it was a test, to say, if this deal doesn't work out – I was working, negotiating a deal that would have a transfer of power to the Taliban – and if this didn't work, would we be rescued? And the response was noncommittal.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You asked the United States--
MOHIB: I did.
BRENNAN: --to help you evacuate from Afghanistan?
MOHIB: If this deal didn't work, would that be the case? There were intelligence reports, both from Afghan sources, the Americans and a- a- a- an independent, that the plan for- by- not by the Taliban, their sponsors was, they wanted Ashraf Ghani's head. And it's embarrassing enough to have lost our country. We're not going to lose another president; be embarrassed like that in Afghanistan and be killed. There was- there were all precautions made. What we tried to do was to see if there was anywhere that the president could go and resist and continue to be in Afghanistan. But that- that- that was no longer possible. We- we had hosts in mind to be able to go and continue from there. But the forces there had already melted away and there was no possibility of him going anywhere. And then, about on the 12th, I consulted with the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Interior and the chief of NDS, our National Directorate of Security. And- and we evaluated where there was a possibility to do any kind of resistance in another province. We considered Panjshir as well, and the Minister of Defense was clear that it is not going to be possible to do that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: There was no safe place--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --in Afghanistan for the president to be?
MOHIB: There was no safe place. Absolutely. Unless he wanted the war to continue, unless we wanted to see a civil war return. I grew up at a time when- when Kabul was under Civil War, when there was power factions trying to control, and they didn't. And- and- and millions of Kabulis were displaced. I know the misery they lived under in Peshawar, where I was, the- and how derogatory terms were used to call us all the refugees. We were not going to bring that back on the Afghan people, and what was being discussed in Doha was nothing less than a surrender. And if it is a surrender, why take two more weeks and risk the lives of millions of Afghans and- and then in the end do exactly the same thing anyway?
MARGARET BRENNAN: But- but you know that the argument is now that had you had a peaceful transfer of power, instead of the Taliban taking it by force, that we wouldn't have children starving to death in Afghanistan right now, because money would have still poured in to this new government, even though the Taliban was part of it – that international aid organizations would be able to provide food, oxygen and hospitals--
MOHIB: What is stopping that from now- from happening now?
MARGARET BRENNAN: United States and the world having sanctions on the Taliban.
MOHIB: Well, why? The question is, if we were to give the Taliban exactly what they wanted, then you know, the legitimacy given by the president, but for a surrender? You know, this is not an argument. This doesn't make sense to me.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, this is--
MOHIB: In any way. In any way.
MARGARET BRENNAN: This is the Biden administration would argue, and many Afghans, that there was a very narrow sort of window of opportunity, where in those final weeks, President Ghani could have negotiated an exit that would have avoided the situation and the chaos that ensued. Was there a deal on the table?
MOHIB: There was no deal on the table. This is an excuse. Look--
MARGARET BRENNAN: This is what Secretary Blinken, on this program, said it was there, that he spoke to President Ghani on- on August the 14th. He thought he had a deal and the next day, Ghani fled.
MOHIB: I was--
MARGARET BRENNAN: That's what he says.
MOHIB: I was closely involved in that negotiation. And you know, in fact, you know, I worked out the terms with the Americans on what would be that peaceful transfer of power. It was not going to happen on August 15. It was going to happen when we still had multiple provinces under Afghan control and we still had a consolidated force. The Taliban that day were all over the city and we didn't have, like I said, a consolidated force to keep the order. And the Taliban statement was conditional. It was you, the government, is responsible for order in the city, and the people who were breaking the order were also the Taliban. And them sitting in Doha knew that time is ticking. Two weeks more, two more weeks in the end and- and the Americans are out, they could do whatever they wanted to do. The language used by the Americans now for the government, formation of the government was no longer inclusive. It was none monopoly. The word none monopoly. And you take what you want to from that. But that basically means a surrender to the Taliban.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mhmm.
MOHIB: And maybe the Taliban could include one or two people and there was no specifications of it. What is stopping that from happening now? What was stopping that from happening two weeks before, or August 15, whenever was- the deal was, when the Afghan government was not there to negotiate that, and our partner for negotiation was the United States? The Taliban hadn't even agreed to- to meet with our team.
MARGARET BRENNAN: It's been reported you received a text message from one of the Taliban leaders that day on August 15.
MARGARET BRENNAN: One of the Haqqanis. What did he say? What did he propose?
MOHIB: Surrender. He said you issue a statement of surrender and then we negotiate. I told him that's not how it works. You negotiate first and then we will see what the outcome of that negotiation is.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Did the U.S. tell you to take that meeting?
MOHIB. No. I contacted at the time, Tom West, and I told him that I had received a call. We were discussing at the- at the time negotiations, whether we go to Doha and do this negotiations, and I said, "Well, there could be this opportunity. Should we do this negotiation internally? I could take it." And he said he consulted and called me back and said, "No don't take that meeting." You know – couldn't trust that that was in good faith.
MARGARET BRENNAN: How many people made it onto these helicopters when you fled the palace?
MOHIB: Well, whoever was left at the palace, the palace grounds had vacated– had by most people that were working there. And on the day, not even physically, some people even left the security coordination group that we had at the NSC. They left the WhatsApp groups as well. So whoever was left in, we thought, was still present on the palace grounds vacated--
with us. There were about 11 people and then the rest were security. Some were left behind because they--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Your secretary was left behind.
MOHIB: Yes, including- some were left behind because there was no room on the helicopters. It was a hot day, and it could only take a certain amount of load. And so the number of people were exceeding what the helicopter's capacity was. So one of them, one of the helicopters, had to be disembarked by some people, including my personal security and my secretary.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, the Biden and Trump administration's envoy to the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad, the former ambassador who was on this program recently, said the US should have pressed President Ghani harder to make concessions so that there was a peaceful transfer of power. He told my colleague Michael Morrell, that Ghani insisted until the very end he would not leave until a successor was decided in an election. It was late, and Ghani was making demands as if he had won the war rather than he was losing the war. What he is describing is delusion.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You were his national security adviser. Did you ever say to him, "Mr. President, the Taliban is coming to power, whether we like it or not, we have to take a negotiated deal."?
MOHIB: Look, we-- until the last day and the day before, even the day before, when the decision was made that a team from the Republic would go and negotiate with the Taliban. There were two things that Dr. Abdullah, who was leading the peace efforts, and former President Karzai asked President Ghani to- to get the Americans to guarantee. One what- that the Taliban would talk to this negotiating team, this team and agree to a power sharing, or an inclusive government, that a negotiation would actually take place, and that until that negotiating- negotiation is complete, the Taliban are not to enter Kabul. I think the distance between the Republic, not the president alone, the distance between the Republic and the Taliban was great. The Taliban wanted every- they wanted the return of their Islamic Emirate and wanted the Republic gone completely. And then the Republic wanted to include the Taliban as part of its big circle. And that was the stand that President Ghani was representing. Yes, he wanted elections because he felt that that would be the way he hands over power, but he's not wrong to think that he was being, he was being assured in every meeting, on every statement that the international community wants to see a democratic Afghanistan, a sovereign Afghanistan, an Afghanistan that's at peace with itself and its neighbors. So we had these four things to look forward to in the--
MARGARET BRENNAN: The United States says President Ghani just wanted to stay in power.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And that's it. He did not want to negotiate his exit.
MOHIB: This was never- this was never clear. If the- if the United States or any other power came and said that we would like to see- we are happy to see a Taliban government, and the rest of it could work with it- with that. That conversation never happened. There was never an open, honest conversation with the Afghan government in which these, uh, clarity- that this level of clarity that came in– after post collapse never was- was a place. There wasn't a U.S. secretary of state or a national security adviser, anyone higher, that has come to Afghanistan, spent a day or two. This is a mission in which we have both shed blood together, made tremendous amount of sacrifices and is worthy of protection – to- to spend a day or two, talk with the president and key leaders in Afghanistan to say, here is what the Americans want to do, right? You're right, we didn't read the writing on the wall. The writing on the wall was that a withdrawal will take place no matter what. We thought that the preservation of the last 20 years, the last two decades mattered, and that is where we, we, we, we, we misunderstood. Had that discussion been- taken place, to say the United States no longer can afford – and it would have been totally understandable – can no longer afford to stay in Afghanistan and wishes to cut a deal, and we would like you to come on board. Then, we would have been able to make a sensible decision about what the future was. Not the way it was – President Ghani wrote to President Trump and told him if this negotiation, what Zalmay Khalilzad was leading, is about a withdrawal, would– negotiate with us, that would give us a fighting chance. Not with the Taliban.
MARGARET BRENNAN: When President Biden announced in April that he was going to pull out U.S. troops by September – you know he pulled that back a bit, but just a few weeks – your government said you respected the decision. What was your real reaction?
MOHIB: It wasn't a decision we were consulted about.
MARGARET BRENNNAN: How much advance did you get?
MOHIB: What would a government respond to say at that time? We still wanted to see American support, and it was important that we keep that going.
MARGARET BRENNAN: How much advance notice did you get from the Biden administration before the president announced on television that he was withdrawing?
MOHIB: Maybe a few hours
MARGARET BRENNAN: A few hours?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Who told you?
MOHIB: The decision was announced. I don't exactly remember who called. But we were informed just a few hours. I think Secretary Blinken called and talked to the president, and supposedly the decision would have been- announcement would have been a bit later. But as is in Washington, once a decision is made, it leaks to the press very, very quickly. So a few hours after we were informed it was already in the media.
MARGARET BRENNAN: For the Biden administration, they argue they were clear throughout. They accepted the Trump administration's negotiated deal with the Taliban. The president ran on a platform of pulling back. How did you miss that writing on the wall? This was a campaign promise from President Biden.
MOHIB: Well, this was also a campaign promise by- by- by Trump. This was not- you withdrawal- the withdrawing from Afghanistan is not what we had an issue with, and we still- I still think that it could be- it could have had other result. I wish that things were done differently. The timing was of extreme- of extreme importance, and the resources left behind were important. So the decision I think made in April, we respected it and we thought, you know, there would be other enablers that would support, for example, the contractors. Contractors were critical to the survival of the ANDSF–
MARGARET BRENNAN: These were Americans or other workers who were helping basically to- to service –
MOHIB: Correct. They were- they were providing fuel. They were providing ammunition. They were providing, in some cases, food supplies and uniforms. A whole lot that the the- the- the security forces needed. Even the software that was being managed to pay the Afghan security forces was run by a- by a contracting company.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And this all starts disappearing.
MOHIB: So all of this is to be withdrawn. And then the panic that ensued is because of this. The-the panic in the Afghan security forces at the point when they stopped fighting is, they were- there were some that were not getting paid in time. There were others who didn't have all the right ammunition and fuel. And it started to panic that this is- And then the Taliban obviously use this as an opportunity to- to do enough propaganda to their advantage.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you know, there's a lot of criticism of the Ghani government and how you handled this, either not persuading the administration to change their mind or to change how they carried it out. President Ghani himself has been described as sort of living in a bubble. Reading books on the grounds of the palace while the country is disintegrating.
MOHIB: I think, you know, everyone, including myself, have our own problems. That doesn't mean that a government collapses,and it doesn't come down to one person. This was not a mission that was just out of–
MARGARET BRENNAN: But was he out of touch with reality on the ground?
MOHIB: That was- it was not a mission that was President Ghani alone. We had a republic. We had a parliament, we had members, you know, a government that had a lot of stake in- in other leaders in Afghanistan. We had media, civil society. Everyone played a role in keeping and preserving the the Afghan government. And it, when it came down to it, is- is the dependency that we had on the international security presence, one, but the enablers and the financial support for them more, more so. And so, you know, I-I've never read, and I would never believe that just because President Ghani read books led to the collapse of the state–
MARGARET BRENNAN: No, but their criticism that he was–
MOHIB: I think that's a lame excuse. Whoever presented it- presents it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But the criticism is that he was out of touch with reality, that he was living in a bubble, that there was corruption and ineptness within the government. You're the national security adviser. You're the one who gives him the hard news, "We have to go." Did you ever give him the hard news, "Mr. President, we have to agree to negotiate our exit here because the Americans are gone. They're leaving us."
MOHIB: Okay. Let me tell you that, you know, President Ghani received hard news every second of the day. Afghanistan was at war. Every minute we lost an Afghan across the country. There was no good news. I have never gone to President Ghani and told him, "Here is some good news." Or for that matter, anyone else to-to issue him good news. It was just bad news all along. We were a country at war.
MARGARET BRENNAN: When you came here to the United States in June, this is just months before the pullout, you went to the White House, you went to the CIA. It was front page news in American newspapers that the U.S. intelligence assessment was that the government could collapse within six months. Did the United States government ever tell you that to your face?
MOHIB: Well, we received some of this information. And I remember a security briefing about three or four weeks before the collapse, or perhaps even less than that, in which there was a timeline. And I-I asked what it meant, and it said that that is where we-we-we believe that the end Taliban would enter Kabul. It was an- it was vague. It was not a very clear response, whether they believed that-that would be the fall of Kabul, or that would be the time when the Taliban surround Kabul. But there was also a lot of belief that the Afghan security forces would- would be able to defend Kabul for some time. It- it wasn't anticipated how quickly the morale fell, and once the morale of the security forces was gone, they were not ready to fight a battle that they were- they knew were going- they were going to lose.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Did you ever ask what happens if this diplomatic effort fails?
MOHIB: Well, uh, this was a big part of the whole discussion when the president came to Washington. It was about whether the Afghan government will continue to have support. Whether the Afghan government and the Afghan security forces will continue to have their support. And we were assured was, the Afghan government will continue to receive the security assistance. That is, the ANDSF will continue to receive some additional equipment, that it- that was previously promised, and that they are working on- on over the horizon support for ANDSF, for maintenance and other needs of- uh, uh- that were previously being done through Kabul-
MARGARET BRENNAN: This was what the CIA director and the president of the United States are telling you?
MOHIB: Well, this is a discussion overall. I think this is, you know, the specifics of each discussions varied. With, of course, the intelligence, the discussion was about threats and what this- what level of threats would be emanating if there was a total Taliban victory, and what- what it is that they would- wanted to see. I think, you know, overall, the discussion was about the Afghan government will continue to have the support of the United States going forward, and we hoped that a peace settlement would happen before the US withdraws. But it was not certain that that is what will happen.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right now there is, as we talked about, no money flowing in to Afghanistan because the Taliban are now running the government. Do you think if you had stayed, That it would have made a difference?
MOHIB: No. If the condition was that a Taliban government be in place, there would have been a Taliban government in place just two weeks later.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you don't feel a sense of responsibility when you hear about what the UN is saying – that this is going to be a bleak winter of starvation?
MOHIB: Absolutely! Of course I feel responsible. I feel responsible now and I feel responsible then. I think what- what the outcome is is unfair to the Afghan people. A decision was made to include and be able to have- to see the Taliban in government, right? And- and-
MARGARET BRENNAN: The United States, the Biden administration agreed to what the Trump administration agreed to, which was the Taliban's coming back into power.
MOHIB: When that decision was made. I think it was important to make assumptions about how there will be collaboration with- with that government in place, and how we're going to deliver aid to people that are in need without, if there is a time where there is no direct cooperation with them. I think there was- there was a chance to do that when, and- I have never seen any insurgency with whom ministers, foreign ministers have met. And the Taliban themselves told me when we were negotiating or were trying to negotiate directly to say that they have foreign ministers lined up waiting to meet with them. There is no need for them to talk to the Afghan government. They considered themselves in 2019 a government in waiting.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Because the United States–
MOHIB: And if that was the case-
MARGARET BRENNAN: –had signed a deal with them?
MOHIB: And if that was the case, if they were a government in waiting in 2019, and the international community met with them - every day, there was a meeting with the Taliban, advertised no secret meetings, advertised meetings, public meetings with the Taliban – you know, it would have been important to discuss how this aid be delivered back then. And now I think it's also important that, you know, whatever has happened, it's still important that we reach to those people in need and find ways, be creative about how do we- how we support the Afghan public. They are the ones that are suffering now.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you saying you believe the United States is responsible for the Taliban's return to power?
MOHIB: I think, you know, things could have been done differently. I wish things were done differently. There could have been a different outcome to this process had Ambassador Khalilzad decided to bring the Afghan government into confidence and be transparent about the negotiating- negotiations process, I think we would have seen a different Afghanistan today than we- what we are witnessing right now.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What about the Taliban's ties with Al Qaeda? Do you believe that Afghanistan will once again become a harbor and haven for terrorists?
MOHIB: I have been on the record that there is no distinction between the Taliban. I think the international community and many distinguish between terrorist groups in silos, as if al Qaeda is separate to Daesh or Taliban. I- I believe they are all part of the integral network, and they all uh, uh attract from the same pool, and they believe in the same- in the same ideologies and outcome. It may have different political structures, but it is all the same. We have seen time and again proof that an attack conducted by ISIS was actually facilitated by the Haqqani network. So the distinction between al Qaeda, Taliban and ISIS is very difficult in an environment like that. And Al Qaeda, particularly with the Taliban, has been so close they have intermarried and they're- it would be impossible to separate al Qaeda from Taliban.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So should all the billions of dollars in money that is being frozen right now be released into use in Afghanistan? How do you do that without putting money in the hands of the Taliban and al Qaeda?
MOHIB: Well, I think that's where we have to be very creative, but creative about how how money is flown into the hands of the Afghan people, not the Taliban. It would be impossible that the Taliban benefit- not benefit from some of that. I think I have already seen the Taliban using aid given by NGOs to people as propaganda, as if it was coming from them. So whether it's WFP or any other agency that provides that aid to the Afghan people, that the Taliban would not try to use it to further strengthen their hand in Afghanistan. But- but there must be ways where we don't do that physically.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And you want to work on that issue now?
MOHIB: Well, I'm trying to assist in any way, any way I can for my people, at least to raise awareness about what needs to be done and whatever we can to help our people.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you think your biggest mistake was?
MOHIB: I think, you know, not seeing that writing on the wall about the withdrawal probably is one of the biggest. We should have understood that the United States and- has made its decision and- and would withdraw under any circumstances. And I think that probably is one of the- one of the reasons we weren't able to secure another outcome.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You felt that you were going to have the United States change its mind based on conditions on the ground?
MOHIB: No, I felt- I felt that our partners, the United States- the United States included believed in a democratic Afghanistan, a place where we were going to preserve the gains of the last 20 years. I thought those gains meant something.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Hamdullah Mohib, thank you for your time today.
MOHIB: Thank you for having me.
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