Biden administration says Afghan government talked it out of an earlier evacuation

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says the Afghan government warned it would ‘show a loss of confidence.’

Eric Garcia
Tuesday 17 August 2021 20:07
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Watch live as White House press secretary Jen Psaki holds briefing with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan

President Joe Biden’s national security advisor Jake Sullivan said Tuesday that the Afghan government argued against an earlier evacuation from the nation, saying it would have caused a “loss of confidence.”

Mr Sullivan said criticisms about why the United States did not draw down the embassy and evacuate allies earlier were valid questions, adding that the administration accelerated the special immigration visa process and evacuated many applicants and their families.

“But the Afghan government and its supporters, including many of the people now seeking to leave made a passionate case that we should not conduct a mass evacuation lest we trigger a loss of confidence in the government,” Mr Sullivan said.

The remarks echo what Mr Biden said in an address Monday afternoon about the situation when responding to questions about why the United States failed to evacuate civilians from Afghanistan sooner.

“Part of the answer is some of the Afghans did not want to leave earlier, still hopeful for their country,” he said. “And part of it because the Afghan government and its supporters discouraged us from organizing a mass exodus to avoid triggering, as they said, a crisis of confidence.”

Mr Sullivan said the United States planned for contingencies and that forces at Hamid Karzai International Airport are on the ground because of plans and drills. The remarks came as the Taliban captured the capital city of Kabul and images of Afghans trying to jump on a plan trying to escape were plastered over the media.

“When you work on any issue, domestic policy, foreign policy, any policy issue, the human costs and consequences loom large,” Mr Sullivan said. “We’re all contending with the human costs of these developments.”

When Mr Sullivan was asked what Mr Biden takes responsibility for, he said the president took responsibility for every decision the US government took.

“I am also taking responsibility, and so are my colleagues,” he said, including the secretaries of Defense and State departments and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Now, at the same time, that doesn’t change the fact that there are other parties here responsible here as well who have taken actions and decisions that have helped lead us to where we are.”

Rather, Mr Sullivan said that the most important thing was to focus on the task at hand, which he said the United States was doing.

“At the end of the day, the question is can we effectively evacuate those people who we intend to evacuate,” he said. “And that is what we are planning for and executing against beginning today, where the airport is secure, the flights are going, the people are coming and we are continuing to do that in the days again.”

At the same time, Mr Sullivan said the president had not spoken with other leaders since Afghanistan fell into the hands of the Taliban.

The conference came amid a report from the Wall Street Journal saying that the president made the decision to withdraw despite his top military officials and diplomats warning against it and said a quick withdrawal could undermine security in the nation.

Meanwhile, BuzzFeed News’s Hamed Aleaziz reported that United States Citizenship and Immigration Services employees were asked to volunteer for Operation Allies Refuge, to help process and adjudicate Special Immigration Visas for Afghan nationals and their families. Employees could be deployed as early as this week.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez said in a statement that he wanted a full accounting of both former president Donald Trump’s “flawed negotiations” with the Taliban and the Biden administration’s “flawed execution” of the withdrawal.

“Congress was told repeatedly that the Afghan Defense and Security Forces were up to the task, that it had the troops, equipment and willingness to fight,” Mr Menendez, a Democrat, said. “To see this army dissolve so quickly after billions of dollars in U.S. support is astounding.”

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