Amid images of helicopters evacuating key United States personnel from Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul, and news that the Taliban is moving into the city following Afghan president Ashraf Ghani swift evacuation Sunday, Biden administration Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and ABC’s “This Week” to defend President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan in such a swift and seemingly unorganized manner.
CNN’s Jake Tapper confronted Blinken directly on his refusal to answer questions on the withdrawal directly, snapping that “you keep changing the subject” when Blinken was confronted on whether the “exit was ineptly planned,” in Tapper’s words.
Although Blinken — and previously, his boss, President Joe Biden — tried to pin the hasty exit from Afghanistan on a timeline set by the Trump administration, Tapper pointed out that Blinken told Tapper himself that it was “entirely likely” that the Taliban would be “taking over the country” months ago and noted that the Biden administration’s decision to send 5,000 troops into the country to organize a retreat, despite pulling 2,500 troops out just weeks ago, belied a Biden administration failure.
“You thought it was entirely likely that the Taliban would be taking over the country, but President Biden [said] just last month, quote, ‘the likelihood the Taliban would be taking over everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.’ He was wrong,” Tapper said.
“What we’ve done, what the president has done, is make sure that we were able to adjust to anything happening on the ground,” Blinken claimed. “We had those forces at the ready…in the event that this moved in a direction,” he added, noting that the troops were on the ground to evacuate U.S. personnel, translators, and other key allies if the Taliban took over.
“Why didn’t you have the troops in there, taking them out?” Tapper snapped.
“Like it or not, there was an agreement that the forces would come out May first,” Blinken said, referring to the Trump agreement. “Had we not done that process, which is what the president did, and the Taliban saw, then we would have been back at war with the Taliban.”
He then went on to claim that the Biden administration saw the “hollowness” of the Afghan security forces.
Blinken’s message of “orderly” withdrawal continued on ABC, where he again claimed the Biden administration had no choice but to honor a timeline set forward by the previous administration, though he did not seem to acknowledge that there was an interim of six months where the U.S. collected further intelligence.
“Here’s the choice the president faced, again, remember that a deadline was established by the previous administration of May 1st to get our remaining forces out of Afghanistan and the idea that we could’ve sustained the status quo by keeping our forces there, I think, is wrong, because here’s what would have happened if the president decided to keep those forces there,” he said. “During the period from when the agreement was reached to May 1st, that Taliban had ceased attacking our forces ceased attacking NATO forces. It had also held off on this major offensive that we see now to try to take over the country to go for these provincial capitols, which in recent weeks it has succeeded in doing.”
“Come May 2nd, if the President decided to say — all gloves would have been off. We would have been back at war with the Taliban. They would have been attacking our forces. We would have had 2,500 or so forces remaining in the country with airpower,” Blinken said.
It is not clear whether the Biden administration believed it had a choice between a full war with the Taliban and a swift exit Sunday morning.
Blinken did, however, try to diffuse comparisons between Kabul and the American withdrawal from Saigon, which marked the end of the Vietnam war.
“This is manifestly not Saigon,” Blinken said. “The compound itself, our folks are leaving there, and moving to the airport.”
Blinken and other officials are reportedly briefing federal legislators Sunday. There has been no word from President Joe Biden, who is at Camp David and has called a “lid” on communications until Wednesday.