One of Mr Trump's closest aides, John McEntee, handed a handwritten note to retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor on 9 November 2020, saying: “This is what the president wants you to do.”
Col Macgregor, who had just been offered the post of senior adviser to acting Defence Secretary Christopher Miller, with only ten weeks left of Mr Trump’s term in office, told Mr McEntee he didn’t think such a drastic move would be possible before the president’s term was up.
“Then do as much as you can,” Mr McEntee said, according to Axios.
A short memo was delivered by a courier to the office of Mr Miller two days later with instructions from Mr Trump to withdraw all US forces from Somalia by 31 December 2020 and all troops from Afghanistan by 15 January 2021. It was Mr Miller’s third day as Defence secretary after the firing of Mark Esper.
The top military leaders were horrified by the orders, Axios reported. Neither White House counsel Pat Cipollone nor national security advisor Robert O'Brien appeared to know where the orders had come from.
The memo had Mr Trump’s signature, but not even the staffers whose job it was to vet all the paper that got to the desk of the president knew where it had come from.
National security leaders came to understand that Mr Trump himself was trying to conduct military policy under the radar, according to Axios.
Mr Trump’s previous attempts to put a stop to America’s “endless wars” were slow-walked by military leaders once he came into office. The generals around the president didn’t see eye to eye with the president’s view of the world.
Mr McEntee pushed harder to appoint people loyal to Mr Trump’s agenda to top Pentagon positions once it became clear that Joe Biden’s election victory would not be overturned.
The goal was to go against the advice of the generals and remove the US from its positions around the world in a way that couldn’t easily be undone by the next administration.
Mr McEntee was discovered as the man behind the order at the White House but claimed he was simply doing what Col Macgregor had instructed him to do.
Mr Cipollone and Mr O’Brien stopped the order, talking Mr Trump into waiting until they had had a meeting with national security officials.
In this meeting, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, Mr Miller and Mr O’Brien argued against the withdrawal from Afghanistan. They had previously used examples from Vietnam to discourage Mr Trump from rushing to leave.
Despite signing the order, Mr Trump told Axios he was concerned about leaving behind gear during a rushed exit. Referring to the Vietnam War, he said: “You remember those scenes with the helicopters, right, with people grabbing onto the gear? You don’t want that. And I wouldn’t have that.”
Mr Biden announced on 14 April that he would withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by 11 September.
Despite Mr Biden’s long-held scepticism concerning remaining in Afghanistan, Mr Trump sought credit for his successor’s ability to take such action, telling Axios he “built a train that couldn’t be stopped”.
Mr Trump said his phone conversation in March 2020 with Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was the reason that no US troops in Afghanistan were killed in combat for more than a year.
He also claimed that he told Mr Baradar that the US would return if the Taliban tried to assert control, saying that they would be “hit you harder than you’ve ever been hit before”. The Taliban reject this version of events.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told Axios that Mr Trump “did not exert pressure nor issue any threats and warnings,” adding that the conversation was “cordial and normal”.
The spokesperson also said that the Taliban has not spoken to Mr Biden or Secretary of State Antony Blinken, instead communicating with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
The situation in Afghanistan remains dangerous with dozens dying every week. A recent bomb attack targeted school girls in the capital of Kabul, killing at least 85 people.
Following the withdrawal of US troops, the Taliban could retake control and impose a totalitarian reign once again.