Biden brushes off chaotic Kabul airport scenes as ‘five days ago’ in defensive ABC interview

Biden promised to evacuate all US citizens from the country, saying: ‘we’re going to stay to get them all out.’

David Taintor,Graeme Massie
Thursday 19 August 2021 02:52 EDT
President says no regrets on Afghan exit as he bristles at ABC questions on airport deaths

Joe Biden bristled when pressed by ABC News on the chaotic scenes from Kabul airport earlier this week when desperate Afghans clung to the side of a US military plane as it taxied towards the runway.

“We’ve all seen the pictures. We’ve seen those hundreds of people packed in a C-17. We’ve seen Afghans falling,” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos said before Mr Biden cut in.

“That was four days ago, five days ago!” the president said. Mr Biden was asked what he had thought when he saw the chaotic scenes, which took place on Monday.

“What I thought was, we have to gain control of this. We have to move this more quickly. We have to move in a way in which we can take control of that airport. And we did,” Mr Biden said.

He then told ABC News that US troops will stay in Afghanistan as long as necessary to evacuate all American civilians, even if that meant staying past their planned 31 August withdrawal date.

“Americans should understand that we’re gonna try to get it done before August 31,” he said. “And if you’re American force - if there’s American citizens left, we’re going to stay to get them all out.”

There are between 10,000 and 15,000 Americans still in Afghanistan, as well as 50,000 to 65,000 Afghans and their families that the US wants to help evacuate.

Mr Biden then told Mr Stephanopoulos, a former White House advisor during the Clinton era, that he did not think the US withdrawal could have been handled any better.

“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. I don’t know how that happened,” Mr Biden replied.

He was then asked if the chaos “had been priced in” and after first saying “yes”, he changed his mind.

“Now exactly what happened, I’ve not priced in,” he said.

“But I knew that they’re going to have an enormous ... look, one of the things we didn’t know is what the Taliban would do in terms of trying to keep people from getting out.

“What they would do. What are they doing now? They’re cooperating, letting American citizens get out, American personnel get out, embassies get out, etcetera, but they’re having – we’re having some more difficulty helping those who helped us when we were in there.”

US officials said that on Tuesday they had evacuated 3,200 people from Afghanistan, including all Embassy staff, apart from a group left working from Kabul’s international airport.

The US says it hopes to be able to evacuate around 9,000 people a day moving forward.

Mr Biden was then asked if the chaos earlier in the week had been a result of a “failure of intelligence, planning, execution or judgement”.

“Look, it was a simple choice, George,” replied Mr Biden.

“When you had the government of Afghanistan, the leader of that government, get in a plane and taking off and going to another country, when you saw the significant collapse of the Afghan troops we had trained, up to 300,000 of them, just leaving their equipment and taking off, that was, you know ... that’s what happened.

“That’s simply what happened. And so the question was, in the beginning, the threshold question was, do we commit to leave within the timeframe we set, do we extend it to 1 September, or do we put significantly more troops in?”

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