Biden Digs In to Defend Afghanistan Exit, Says Chaos Was Inevitable
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden said U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan until all Americans are able to leave the country -- even if it takes longer than his Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw.
“If there are American citizens left, we’re going to stay to get them all out,” Biden told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News in a Wednesday interview.
Biden said that American intelligence assessments didn’t foresee such a rapid advance by the Taliban and collapse of the Afghan military, prompting the U.S. to race to evacuate its citizens and Afghans who aided U.S. troops.
Many Americans were shocked by the trauma that unfolded this week in Kabul, where desperate Afghans tried to cling to the side of a U.S. military plane as it taxied down a runway, with some plunging to their deaths as it took flight minutes later.
Biden said there were 10,000 to 15,000 Americans in Afghanistan, and said the “estimate we’re giving” is 50,000 to 65,000 Afghan allies, including their families.
Asked if the commitment extends to the Afghans, Biden said: “The commitment holds to get everyone out that in fact we can get out and everyone who should come out. And that’s the objective.”
Biden this week has been defending his high-stakes bet that U.S. voters want to end American’s 20-year war in Afghanistan and will forgive him for the searing images of desperate Afghans looking to flee.
The president said in the interview that chaos in Afghanistan was unavoidable after the U.S. withdrew troops. Asked if the U.S. exit could have been handled better, Biden said no.
“I don’t think it could have been handled in a way that -- we’re gonna go back in hindsight and look, but the idea that somehow, there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens,” he said.
The president bristled at questions about the chaos, saying in the ABC interview that the images were from “four days ago, five days ago” when they were actually from two days ago. He said the scene led him to say the U.S. needed to move more quickly to take control of the airport. “And we did,” he said in the interview, taped earlier Wednesday.
Biden repeated that he stood by his decision to withdraw, and said he faced a decision of whether to put more U.S. troops’ lives at risk or pull out.
“I had a simple choice. If I said, ‘We’re gonna stay,’ then we’d better be prepared to put a whole lot hell of a lot more troops in,” he said.
Biden spoke to reporters at the White House on Wednesday about the Covid-19 response, but didn’t address Afghanistan and didn’t take questions.
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