Biden officials pressed on president’s misstatements about Afghanistan withdrawal

News anchors question top officials over claims about Al Qaeda, US personnel

John Bowden
Monday 23 August 2021 04:34
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<p>President Joe Biden speaks about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan last week</p>

President Joe Biden speaks about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan last week

Biden administration officials faced tough questions on Sunday after President Joe Biden made several statements regarding the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan that were demonstrably false during a press conference on Friday.

On several networks, aides to the president, including Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, were asked to answer for Mr Biden’s attempts to reassure Americans about his handling of the evacuations from Kabul following its fall to the Taliban.

During an interview on Fox News Sunday, Mr Blinken was questioned about Mr Biden’s claim that the terrorist group Al Qaeda was “gone” from the country, as international organisations including the United Nations have concluded as recently as July that Al Qaeda is active in at least a dozen provinces across Afghanistan.

Mr Blinken did not address the commander-in-chief’s assertion directly, stating instead that the US had been “successful” in diminishing Al Qaeda’s capacity to carry out attacks and in killing its former leader, Osama bin Laden.

On ABC’s This Week, Mr Austin was grilled about reports of Americans unable to reach Hamid Karzai International Airport, where US forces are conducting evacuations, which Mr Biden said on Friday he had “no indication” was an issue.

“If you have an American passport, and if you have the right credentials, the Taliban has been allowing people to pass safely through,” Mr Austin argued in his interview.

“Not in all cases,” ABC’s Martha Raddatz shot back.

“There’s no such thing as an absolute in this kind of environment, as you would imagine, Martha,” Austin said, before conceding: “There have been incidents of people having some tough encounters with Taliban.”

He added that the Biden administration was continuing to engage with Taliban officials to try and hold the conquerors of Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan to their promise to allow US evacuations to continue unhindered.

And on CNN, Mr Sullivan was questioned by State of the Union guest host Brianna Keilar about both of those issues, with Ms Keilar questioning why the president was “misleading with his words” regarding the safety of Americans and the strength of the terrorist group responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Mr Sullivan responded that he “reject[s] that characterisation” about Al Qaeda being a continued threat in Afghanistan, and argued that because the group supposedly lacks the capacity to strike at the US homeland, it does not represent a threat to US interests.

As for Americans facing difficulty reaching safety at the airport, Mr Sullivan asserted that the Biden administration had “dealt with those issues one-by-one.”

The interviews on Sunday come as the White House is seeking to mop up after a disastrous last weekend that culminated in the fall of Kabul and striking scenes of panicked Afghans on the tarmac at the city’s airport, just weeks after Mr Biden had defended the stability of Afghanistan’s government and insisted that the US withdrawal would not look like the fall of Saigon.

Mr Biden’s approval rating has slipped in some polls as critics continue to hammer the government for not getting US personnel and their allies out of the country before the government collapsed.

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