Washington, U.S. | Xinhua | U.S. President Joe Biden is struggling against an intensifying examination of his judgment, competence and even his empathy over the chaotic US exit from Afghanistan. And each attempt the administration makes to quell a furor that’s tarnishing America’s image only provokes more questions about its failures of planning and execution.
A defiant Biden on Wednesday rejected criticism of his leadership, as he battled the most significant self-inflicted drama of a term that he won by promising proficient government and to level with voters.
“I don’t think it was a failure,” the President said in an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, referring to a US pullout that sparked scenes of desperate Afghans clinging to, and falling to their deaths from, US evacuation planes.
Asked if the U.S. drawdown could have been handled better, Biden replied, “No, I don’t think it could have been handled in a way that … but the idea that somehow, to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens.”
“One of the things we didn’t know is what the Taliban would do in terms of trying to keep people from getting out,” he said. “They’re cooperating, letting American citizens get out … but we’re having some more difficulty having those who helped us when we were in there.”
He also said that the U.S. military could extend its mission in Afghanistan beyond Aug. 31 to evacuate Americans on the ground.
In one part of the interview, Biden said that he didn’t trust the Taliban but argued that the militia was cooperating with the US evacuation.
“I’m not sure I would have predicted nor would you or anyone else, that when we decided to leave that they’d provide safe passage for Americans to get out,” the President Said.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday that the Taliban informed the United States that they would provide safe passage of civilians to Kabul airport.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said Wednesday that U.S. military flights had evacuated over 2,000 people in the last 24 hours and nearly 5,000 people over the last several days.
U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan earlier in the day issued a security alert saying “the United States Government cannot ensure safe passage to the Hamid Karzai International Airport.”
According to media reports, up to 15,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan.
At a Pentagon briefing on Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said about 4,500 U.S. troops had arrived in Kabul, but their mission was to secure the airport. “We don’t have the capability to go out and collect up large numbers of people.”
U.S. troops on the ground had no hostile interaction with the Taliban, and the lines of communication with Taliban commanders remain open, he said.
Austin said that the U.S. military is working hard to get more people evacuated while noting “we’re not close to where we want to be in terms of getting the numbers through.”
The Pentagon said on Tuesday that it could have the capacity to evacuate as many as 5,000 to 9,000 per day at best effort.
Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani left the country on Sunday as the Taliban forces entered the capital of Kabul and took control of the presidential palace.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation confirmed on Wednesday that the UAE had welcomed Ghani and his family into the country “on humanitarian grounds.”
“He is no longer a figure in Afghanistan,” said Sherman when asked about U.S. reaction to Ghani’s whereabouts.