By Jack Phillips
After facing a bevy of bipartisan criticism, President Joe Biden on Monday afternoon acknowledged that the collapse of Afghanistan happened more quickly than his administration had anticipated.
“This did unfold more quickly than we anticipated,” Biden said at the White House, blaming Afghanistan’s political and military leaders for giving up and fleeing the country.
The president also accused the Afghan government of stopping the United States from carrying out a mass evacuation plan ahead of the pullout, alleging it would create a “crisis of confidence.”
White House officials and U.S. intelligence officials are “closely monitoring the situation on the ground in Afghanistan,” the president added.
The mission in Afghanistan, which spanned nearly 20 years, was designed to take out the al-Qaeda terrorist network that was blamed by intelligence officials for triggering the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The United States also killed terror leader Osama bin Laden “a decade ago,” Biden said.
Biden added that the invasion of Afghanistan was “never supposed to be nation-building” or “creating a centralized democracy.”
The president didn’t take any questions. The White House confirmed to reporters that he’s heading back to Camp David, where he’s spent the past several days on vacation.
In his speech, Biden appeared to touch on the chaos that is currently unfolding at the Kabul airport, where numerous Americans and foreign citizens remain. U.S. troops were fired on by armed assailants, forcing the soldiers to return fire, said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby earlier in the day.
“Our diplomatic presence has been consolidated at the airport as well,” said Biden, adding that evacuation flights will be held over the coming days.
The president, meanwhile, suggested that the Afghanistan collapse was the responsibility of former President Donald Trump for negotiating a deal with the Taliban to start the pullout on May 1, 2021, adding that his administration was forced to abide by the contours of a deal that Trump had brokered.
But in a number of statements over the past week, Trump criticized Biden’s pullout strategy, asking: “Can anyone even imagine taking out our Military before evacuating civilians and others who have been good to our Country and who should be allowed to seek refuge?”
“These [military] people left topflight and highly sophisticated equipment. Who can believe such incompetence? Under my Administration, all civilians and equipment would have been removed,” Trump also said, referring to American weapons and military vehicles being captured by Taliban forces in recent days.
Over the weekend, Biden, who was on vacation at Camp David, faced significant bipartisan criticism for not addressing the Taliban takeover and questioning U.S. military intelligence over the pullout. Even several former Defense Department officials and generals chimed in, comparing the Afghan government collapse and U.S. Embassy evacuation to the 1975 fall of Saigon, the 1979 Iranian hostage situation, or the 1961 Bay of Pigs incident.
And while Biden did not make any televised addresses in recent days, other world leaders—including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel—have expressed public dismay over how the administration and the United States handled the withdrawal and evacuation of foreigners.
When the Afghanistan announcement was made last month, Biden said it wouldn’t be similar to the 1975 fall of Saigon, when Vietnamese communist forces overran the capital, culminating the end of the Vietnam War.
The Taliban’s offensive shocked American officials. Just a few days before the Taliban entered Kabul with little-to-no resistance, a U.S. military assessment predicted it could take months for it to fall.
Speaking Monday on morning TV programs, senior members of Biden’s national security team and State Department officials attempted to shift the blame for the collapse on the Afghan army’s forces.
However, they acknowledged the speed at which Afghanistan was taken over by the Taliban, which was accused of harboring terrorist groups like al-Qaeda or the Haqqani network, and said that their maneuvers over the past week caught them off-guard.
“It is certainly the case that the speed with which cities fell was much greater than anyone anticipated,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on the “Today” show, also adding that the Afghan army lacked the “will” to fight back against the group.
Over the weekend, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the United States achieved its objective in Afghanistan, which was to defeat al-Qaeda following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Despite his assertion, however, many questions have remained over why the U.S. military remained in the South Asian nation for nearly 20 years and whether military leaders, throughout the years, have willingly misled the American public for why troops had remained stationed there.
The United States will now focus on securing the Kabul airport, Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer told reporters on Monday afternoon. Additional American troops will flow to the airport on Monday and Tuesday, he said. Earlier Monday, the White House confirmed there are a “significant number of Americans” who are still inside Afghanistan amid chaos at the Kabul airport.