President Joe Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan has left a bloodstained mark on his credibility after promising a safe and orderly end to the 20-year war, denying domestic and international requests to extend his Aug. 31 deadline.
The Biden administration had ramped up its warnings regarding terrorist threats to Kabul’s airport. But the reality of dead U.S. military personnel killed in attacks on one of the evacuation site’s entry points and a nearby hotel has severely undermined the White House’s attempts to paint the president as a commander in chief in control.
The White House nixed its communications strategy of portraying Biden as the head of a multitasking administration after news of the attacks in Afghanistan ricocheted around the world.
In the hours after the initial reports out of Kabul, Biden ensconced himself in the Situation Room and then the Oval Office to keep abreast of the unfolding developments. His aides also canceled the president’s first meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and a COVID-19 task force briefing after the country notched 100,000 hospitalizations.
But clearing his schedule did not prevent Biden from being late to his own remarks, which he cut short because he claimed to have “another meeting.” He revealed, too, he had been “instructed” to answer a question from NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell.
“The lives we lost today were lives given in the service of liberty, in the service of security, in the service of others, in the service of America,” Biden said. “To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.”
The attacks wiped out the White House’s work addressing criticism that Biden had bungled the Afghanistan withdrawal, a mammoth logistical mission complicated by an uneasy partnership with the Taliban, the persistent terrorism threat, and an apparent lack of planning.
Tom Cochran, of public affairs firm 720 Strategies and the Obama State Department, focused on how the U.S. had safely processed more than 100,000 people.
“It’s impossible to have a flawless operation in what is likely the largest airlift evacuation in history,” he told the Washington Examiner.
After being ripped for departing Washington, D.C., before and after Kabul’s fall, Biden tried to appear at least publicly more on top of the humanitarian crisis outside the airport as the pace of evacuations picked up on the tarmac. The president, for instance, took questions after delivering remarks on Afghanistan, though he used those speeches to discuss Tropical Storm Henri and his infrastructure proposals.
But as he is prone to do, Biden set himself up for self-sabotage by downplaying al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan and joking in response to a reporter’s query about Kabul.
“If Americans are still in Afghanistan after the deadline, what will you do?” the reporter asked.
“You’ll be the first person I call,” the president said.
At the same time, Biden’s administration has been slammed for seeming to trust the Taliban, an amorphous group that admitted they did not have a handle on all of their members across Afghanistan and which many other countries continue to consider a terrorist organization. That trust included the security of the Kabul airport’s perimeter.
“There’s a reality that the Taliban is currently controlling large swaths of Afghanistan. That is a reality on the ground,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in reply to a question concerning whether the U.S. now negotiated with terrorists.
Psaki grew defensive at suggestions the administration was abandoning citizens, allies, and Afghans at risk of Taliban reprisal. But for days, the White House, State Department, and Pentagon declined to estimate how many people needed to be evacuated from Kabul while the airport’s gates were closed. Roughly 1,000 Americans were in the country at the time of the attacks.
“It’s irresponsible to say Americans are stranded,” Psaki said. “They are not. We are committed to bringing Americans who want to come home home. We are in touch with them via phone, via text, via email, via any way that we can possibly reach Americans to get them home if they want to return home.”
Biden, who has a reputation for being stubborn, cited the Islamic State Khorasan, a sworn enemy of the Taliban, as a reason why he could not extend his Afghanistan withdrawal deadline, ignoring requests from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to remain in Kabul.
Although some dismissed Biden’s comments as a means of masking his capitulation to the Taliban, they were followed by the State Department and its foreign counterparts issuing advice to avoid Hamid Karzai International Airport.
The Pentagon confirmed that at least 13 troops were killed in the Afghanistan attacks.
“We mourn their loss. We will treat their wounds. And we will support their families in what will most assuredly be devastating grief. But we will not be dissuaded from the task at hand,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.
Author : Naomi Lim