Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin admitted during an interview on Sunday that some people who have desperately tried to get to the airport in Kabul have had “tough encounters” with the Taliban.
During an interview with ABC News host Martha Raddatz on “This Week,” Austin refused to divulge the recommendation that he made to President Joe Biden about what course of action the president should take with regard to leaving U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Austin also refused to make a prediction about what will happen in Afghanistan in the future.
“You’ve got tens of thousands of people out there, desperate to get to the airport, surrounded by the Taliban,” Raddatz said. “So, why can’t the U.S. send convoys out there?”
“If you have an American passport, and if you have the right credentials, the Taliban has been allowing people to pass safely through,” Austin claimed.
After pushback from Raddatz, Austin admitted, “There’s no such thing as an absolute.”
“And this kind of environment, as you would imagine, Martha, there have been incidents of people having some tough encounters with Taliban,” he encountered. “As we learn about those incidents — we certainly go back and engage the Taliban leadership and press home to them that our expectation is that they allow, you know, our people with the appropriate credentials to get through the checkpoints.”
“Did you want to see a small force remain in Afghanistan?” Raddatz asked several minutes later.
“Martha, and you know I’m not gonna tell you what, what my recommendation to our president was, I will just tell you that like everyone else, the president listened to our input,” Austin responded. “Again, he conducted a very rigorous and thoughtful process and he made a decision, and I support that decision.”
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin says that people trying to get to the airport have had "some tough encounters with the Taliban" and he refuses to say what his recommendation was to President Biden. pic.twitter.com/njsu3LtV24
— Jason Rantz on KTTH Radio (@jasonrantz) August 22, 2021
TRANSCRIPT PROVIDED VIA ABC NEWS:
LLOYD AUSTIN, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We’re gonna try our very best to get everybody, every American citizen who wants to get out, out. And we’ve got — we continue to look at different ways to — in creative ways — to reach out and contact American citizens and help them get into the airfield.
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS HOST: You said American citizens. What about those Afghans? What about those interpreters? What about the people who are desperately calling?
AUSTIN: Absolutely the people that are in the Special Immigrant Visa program are very very important to us and these would be the interpreters and many of the staff that supported our embassy, and other embassies, by the way. We want to evacuate them as well.
RADDATZ: Will you ask the President to extend the deadline if they’re not out?
AUSTIN: We’re gonna continue to assess the situation. And again, work as hard as we can to get as many people out as possible. And as we approach that deadline, we’ll make a recommendation to the president.
RADDATZ: Why aren’t American troops able to go out into Kabul and help those Americans, help those Afghans who helped Americans — get to the airport?
AUSTIN: We have been out. We — you saw evidence of an operation the other day where we flew a couple of helicopters over to — that was a very short distance —
RADDATZ: About a 1000 yards, right?
AUSTIN: Yeah, but, but certainly it helped 169 American citizens get back, get into the, into the gate without, without issues.
RADDATZ: You’ve got tens of thousands of people out there, desperate to get to the airport, surrounded by the Taliban. So, why can’t the U.S. send convoys out there?
AUSTIN: If you have an American passport, and if you have the right credentials, the Taliban has been allowing people to pass safely through.
RADDATZ: Not in all cases.
AUSTIN: There’s no such thing as an absolute. And this kind of environment, as you would imagine, Martha, there have been incidents of people having some tough encounters with Taliban. As we learn about those incidents — we certainly go back and engage the Taliban leadership and press home to them that our expectation is that they allow, you know, our people with the appropriate credentials to get through the checkpoints.
RADDATZ: But further out into Kabul, there are people desperate to get in. We’re the most capable military in the world.
AUSTIN: We are, and that most capable military in the world is going to make sure that airfield remains secure and safe, and we’re going to defend that airfield. We’re going to look at every way — every means possible to get American citizens, third country nationals, Special Immigrant Visa applicants into the airfield.
RADDATZ: What is the threat level now at the airport?
AUSTIN: I won’t get into any specific intelligence assessments, but you know that environment well enough, you’ve been there many many times, that it’s — there’s a, there are a mix of threats in the environment.
RADDATZ: We saw those first days of people, clinging to airplanes — falling to their death. The absolute utter chaos. And that’s still going on outside the airport. How did this happen?
AUSTIN: Very disturbing images indeed, Martha. As we moved into the airfield and began to secure the airfield, there were a number of civilians that got on to the airfield, before we could completely seal it off. And that was caused by the panic that was created because the government simply dissolved, and the security forces evaporated.
RADDATZ: The president told our George Stephanopoulos that he doesn’t think this exit could have been handled any better way. That chaos would ensue, no matter what. Do you agree with that?
AUSTIN: I agree that if a government collapses to the degree that it did, if the security forces evaporate at the speed that they did, you will clearly have chaos. And that’s what we saw.
RADDATZ: Let’s go back to the planning. We closed Bagram. I was over there with General Miller, and there were concerns about closing Bagram. There were concerns about Afghan interpreters at that point. Who — whose job was it to worry about those interpreters — those Afghans at risk?
AUSTIN: Our goal was to keep the embassy open, and also provide a security element in and around Kabul International to protect the embassy and protect our interest in the immediate — the immediate area. In terms of whose job it is, whose job it was, to address the Special Immigrant Visa applicants, it’s all of our job. It’s an interagency process that’s really honchoed, or led by, the State Department. But, it’s all of our responsibility.
RADDATZ: Are you going to get them all out of there? I know all your people here are working hard, but there’s no real way to get this done right now.
AUSTIN: I’m sure that if people, you know, five days ago looked at where we were, they would say, you probably can’t get very much done at all. If you look at what we’re doing now and taking — evacuating thousands of people every day. It really has been a tremendous piece of work. In terms of what we’ll be able to accomplish going forward, you can’t — we can’t place a, you know, a specific figure on exactly what we’ll be able to do, but I’ll just tell you that we’re going to try to exceed expectations, and do as much as we can, and take care of as many people as we can, for as long as we can.
RADDATZ: I know the president has said that the intelligence absolutely did not show that anybody — that the Taliban could take over in 11 days. What’s the earliest you were aware that that could happen?
AUSTIN: There were assessments that ranged initially from one to two years to, you know, several months, but it was a wide range of of assessments, and as the Taliban began to make gains, and then we saw that in a number of cases, there was less fighting and more surrendering and more forces just kind of evaporating. It was very difficult to predict with accuracy — this all occurred in a span of about 11 days. Nobody predicted that, you know, the government would fall in 11 days.
RADDATZ: When you, when you look at the planning, I mean, Joe Biden has said he wanted to get out of there for years and years. So it was probably pretty certain that he would say that. Do you believe as you look at it now, and the military loves to plan for the worst case, that the planning was acceptable and appropriate?
AUSTIN: I do based upon, you know, what we were looking at, and the inputs to the plan. But I think you have to go back and look at what the administration inherited. I mean we came in, we were faced with a May 1 deadline to have all forces out of the country. This deal had been struck with the Taliban. And so he had to very rapidly go through a detailed assessment, and look at all options in terms of what, you know, what he could do. And none of those options were good options. He went through a very rigorous process, very detailed process. He listened to the input that was provided by all of the stakeholders in the interagency process. And so, at the end of the day, the president made his decision. But again, he was faced with a situation where there were no good options, all were very tough.
RADDATZ: Did you want to see a small force remain in Afghanistan?
AUSTIN: Martha, and you know I’m not gonna tell you what, what my recommendation to our president was, I will just tell you that like everyone else, the president listened to our input. Again, he conducted a very rigorous and thoughtful process and he made a decision, and I support that decision.
RADDATZ: What do you think the final outcome will be there?
AUSTIN: I’ve gotten out of the business of making predictions long, long ago, but I think that’s a chapter that’s yet to be written, obviously.
RADDATZ: It is indeed. Our thanks to Secretary Austin.
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