President Biden Friday answered finally questions from the White House press corps for the first time since the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, after twice earlier this week leaving the podium as reporters shouted questions about the Afghanistan withdrawal.
“I have seen no question of our credibility from our allies around the world,” Biden said in response to a question about the global ramifications of the Afghanistan debacle. “I’ve spoken with our NATO allies… The fact of the matter is I have not seen that – matter of fact the exact opposite I’ve gotten. Exact opposite thing is we’re acting with dispatch, we’re acting, committing to what we said we would do.”
Biden then defended the overall decision to leave Afghanistan, saying the U.S. killed Osama bin Laden and therefore accomplished its mission. He also said that the U.S. is committed to helping Afghan allies and others escape the Taliban’s rule.
“I think you’re comparing apples and oranges,” Biden replied to another question about whether Americans should feel safe from terrorism when U.S. intelligence failed so badly under his leadership that the country fell almost immediately and the U.S. was forced to abandon its embassy.
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He said that predicting the Afghan military would fall and its leaders would leave the country is “a different question than whether or not there is the ability to observe whether or not large groups of terrorists begin to accumulate in a particular area of Afghanistan to plot against the United States of America.”
The president’s previous reluctance to answer questions from reporters – outside of a single, tape-delayed sit down interview with ABC – came as the U.S. military and State Department work to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies from the Kabul airport after the Taliban swept to power in the country over the weekend.
Biden was in Camp David earlier this week but briefly returned to the White House to deliver remarks on the fall of Afghanistan amid the botched U.S. withdrawal. He quickly exited the room and was ushered back to Camp David.
The president then returned to the White House late Tuesday night before speaking about COVID-19 on Wednesday. He did not mention Afghanistan once in those remarks and ignored reporters’ questions, drawing audible scoffs from reporters in attendance.
Biden held no public events Thursday, which is when ABC played its sit down interview with the president and anchor George Stephanopoulos in full on “Good Morning America.” The president defended his decision to leave Afghanistan and his handling of the withdrawal, saying “he 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.”
Biden in questioning was pressed on his assertion that any Americans who want to leave Afghanistan can, given the fact the Taliban is setting up a perimeter around the airport and arbitrarily beating people.
“I thought the question was how can they get through to the airport outside the airport,” Biden said, interrupting the reporter asking the question. “To the best of our knowledge the Taliban checkpoints they are letting through people showing American passports. Now that’s a different question when they get in the rush and crowd of all the folks just outside the wall near the airport.”
Biden added: “It is a process to try to figure out how we deal with the mad rush of non-Americans.”
Biden also responded to other questions about communications with the Taliban, a dissent cable sent from the embassy in Afghanistan earlier this summer and U.S. allies being hunted.
“The answer is yes… we’re considering every opportunity or means by which we could get folks to the airport,” Biden said of whether the U.S. is considering rescue operations for people being blocked from the airport. “The reason why we have not gone out and set up a perimeter way outside the airport in Kabul is that it’s likely to draw a lot of unintended consequences… We’ve been in constant contact with the Taliban leadership… and we’ve been coordinating what we’re doing.”
The president planned to return to his personal residence in Wilmington, Delaware on Friday. But that planned was scuttled shortly before his address to the media amid intense scrutiny.
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The State Department and military are continuing evacuation efforts from Afghanistan Friday. The Pentagon said that between 3 a.m. on Thursday and 3 a.m. on Friday it evacuated 5,700 people.