President Joe Biden and members of his administration have spent weeks downplaying the likelihood that a swift withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan would precipitate a Taliban takeover.
Their predictions about the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan have proven woefully inaccurate, with the Taliban sweeping through Kabul over the weekend in the final stages of the country’s complete collapse into chaos.
Biden sought to defend that outcome Monday during an address to the nation in which he acknowledged the country fell “more quickly than we anticipated,” while placing blame for the situation on the Trump administration and on Afghan leaders who misrepresented the willingness of Afghan forces to fight.
But the Biden administration’s effort before the fall of Kabul to paint a very different picture of what would happen after the withdrawal has eroded the White House’s credibility on the biggest foreign policy crisis of Biden’s presidency.
REPORTER: Mr. President, some Vietnamese veterans see echoes of their experience in this withdrawal in Afghanistan. Do you see any parallels between this withdrawal and what happened in Vietnam, with some people feeling —
PRESIDENT BIDEN: None whatsoever. Zero. What you had is — you had entire brigades breaking through the gates of our embassy — six, if I’m not mistaken. The Taliban is not the south — the North Vietnamese army. They’re not — they’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy in the — of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable.
Biden was asked directly during a July 8 speech about the troop withdrawal whether the outcome could be similar to what unfolded after the U.S. left Vietnam in 1975 — and Biden unequivocally denied it was a possibility.
He referenced iconic images of an evacuation from the U.S. Embassy in Saigon when, in spring 1975, a miscalculation about how quickly the Viet Cong would take the city led to a frantic effort to get U.S. personnel out by helicopter. Hundreds of Vietnamese surrounded the area desperate to escape as well, and photographs of the evacuation have come to symbolize the hasty and fruitless retreat from Vietnam overall.
The images out of Kabul over the weekend, which showed hundreds of desperate Afghans swarming runways from which U.S. planes were attempting to evacuate Americans, depicted eerily similar levels of chaos in the wake of miscalculations about how quickly the Taliban would overtake the country.
Biden had described the situations in Vietnam and Afghanistan as “not at all comparable,” but many analysts have questioned whether the latter could ultimately be remembered as worse, given how rapidly the U.S. was forced to abandon its embassy and how ill-prepared the U.S. was to ferry Americans to safety from the airport in Kabul.
BIDEN: “The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”
In the same July 8 speech, Biden dismissed the possibility that the Taliban would overtake the Afghan forces that the U.S. spent years training and arming.
But the Taliban started their march toward seizing control of the country weeks before the fall of Kabul, and they were met with little resistance from Afghan forces as they swept through provinces and took control of key areas.
The Taliban effectively gained control of the country before the U.S. had successfully evacuated all of its personnel or the Afghan allies who assisted U.S. troops over the years — many of whom are now in danger.
It’s unclear whether Biden’s comment about the likelihood of the Taliban takeover represents a serious intelligence failure or an effort to mislead the public for political reasons. But Biden has conceded neither in his efforts to defend the situation in Afghanistan, pointing instead to Afghan leaders and security forces for their refusal to fight against the Taliban.
JEN PSAKI: “There has been no intelligence assessment that has said it is inevitable, even as they — we are assessing what the consequences could be.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated on July 16 the idea that the intelligence community saw little risk of what has ultimately unfolded in Afghanistan — the swift fall of the country into Taliban hands.
Her comments came as the White House was facing continuing questions about whether officials believed the Afghans could maintain control over their country.
Biden administration officials have not explained, since the fall of Kabul and large swaths of Afghanistan, whether they proceeded with the troop withdrawal in the face of intelligence suggesting the chaos was a growing possibility.
Antony Blinken: “Whatever happens in Afghanistan, if there is a significant deterioration in security, that could well happen — we have discussed this before. I do not think it is going to be something that happens from a Friday to a Monday. ... So, I would not necessarily equate the departure of forces in July, August, or by early September with some kind of immediate deterioration in the situation.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified before Congress in June that any collapse in Afghan security would be gradual enough to ensure the safe removal of Afghans who assisted U.S. forces.
Despite consistent pressure from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the White House insisted on multiple occasions that they had done enough to secure the evacuation of Afghans in danger well before they faced any risk from encroaching Taliban fighters.
Blinken’s comment about any “deterioration in security” not occurring “from a Friday to a Monday” appears especially jarring against the public perception that the situation did indeed fall apart over the span of a weekend.
While the Taliban forces had been advancing aggressively for weeks, they did not overrun the capital of Afghanistan and drive out its president until this past weekend, splashing the situation across international headlines from a Friday to a Monday.
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Original Author: Sarah Westwood
Original Location: Biden's Afghanistan withdrawal predictions return to haunt him