President Joe Biden and other top US officials were stunned on Sunday by the pace of the Taliban̵7;s almost complete takeover of Afghanistan, as the planned withdrawal of US forces immediately became a mission to ensure a safe evacuation.
The pace of the collapse of the Afghan government and the ensuing chaos presented Biden’s most serious test as commander in chief, and he was the subject of criticism from Republicans who said he had failed.
Biden campaigned as a seasoned expert in international relations and has spent months downplaying the prospect of an ascending Taliban, all while arguing that Americans are tired of 20 years of war of political persuasion, a conflict that Which demonstrated the limits of wealth and military power. Western-style democracy on a society that is not ready or willing to adopt it.
By Sunday, however, key figures in the administration acknowledged that they were caught off guard with the full speed of the collapse of Afghan security forces.
The challenge of that effort became clear when reports of sporadic shootings at Kabul airport prompted Americans to seek refuge as they waited for flights to safety.
“We have seen that force has been unable to defend the country, and it has happened more quickly than we expected,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN, referring to the Afghan military.
The turmoil in Afghanistan shifts focus in an unwelcome way for a president who has focused largely on a domestic agenda that includes emerging from pandemic pandemic, winning Congressional approval for trillions of dollars in infrastructure spending and protecting voting rights.
According to senior White House officials, Biden remained at Camp David on Sunday, receiving regular briefings on Afghanistan and making secure video conference calls with members of his national security team. The next several days could be crucial in determining whether the US is able to regain some level of control over the situation.
Discussions were underway for Biden to speak publicly, according to two senior administration officials, who requested anonymity to discuss internal talks.
Biden, who is at Camp David until Wednesday, is expected to return to the White House if he decides to make a speech.
Biden is the fourth US president to face challenges in Afghanistan and has insisted he will not hand over America’s longest war to his successor.
But the president has to explain how security in Afghanistan was resolved so quickly, especially since he and others in the administration insisted it would not happen.
Biden said on July 8, “The jury is still out, but the chances of the Taliban destroying everything and taking over the entire country are very slim.”
As recently as last week, Biden publicly expressed hope that the Afghan military might develop a willingness to defend his country.
But privately, administration officials warned that the military was scrambling, prompting Biden on Thursday to order thousands of US troops in the area to speed up evacuation plans.
One official said Biden was more optimistic on projections for Afghan fighters to see the Taliban prevent a further drop in the morale of their force. It was eventually for naught.
Presidents Barack Obama And Donald Trump also longed to leave Afghanistan, but eventually stood up to resistance from military leaders and other political concerns. Biden, on the other hand, has been determined to refuse to change the August 31 deadline, partly because of his belief that the American public is on his side.
For example, an ABC News/Ipsos poll in late July showed that 55 percent of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the troop withdrawal.
Most Republicans did not push for Biden to keep troops in Afghanistan for long, and they also supported Trump’s own push to get out of the country.
Still, some in the GOP are criticizing Biden’s return strategy, saying Sunday images of US helicopters rounding the US embassy in Kabul exposed the humiliating departure of US personnel from Vietnam.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell kept the return scenes “to the embarrassment of a superpower.”
Meanwhile, US officials are concerned about the potential for an escalation in terrorist threats against the US as the situation in Afghanistan evolves, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked anonymity to discuss a sensitive security matter. was requested.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators on a briefing call on Sunday that US officials are expected to change their earlier assessment of the pace of restructuring of terrorist groups in Afghanistan, the person said.
Depending on the evolving situation, officials believe that terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda may be able to grow much faster than expected.
Officials on the call told senators that the US intelligence community is currently working on creating a new timeline based on emerging threats.
Nevertheless, no additional steps were planned beyond the deployment of troop Biden ordered to assist with the evacuation.
Senior administration officials believed that the US would be able to maintain security at Kabul airport to evacuate the Americans and their allies, but the fate of those unable to reach the airport was not certain.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who has backed the Biden administration’s strategy, said in an interview that “the speed is a surprise” but would not characterize the situation as an intelligence failure. .
He said it has long been known that Afghanistan will fall into the hands of the Taliban if the United States pulls out.
“Given how much we have invested in the Afghan military, it is not ridiculous for analysts to believe that they will be able to keep fighting for more than a few days,” Murphy said.
“You want to believe that trillions of dollars and 20 years of investment adds up to something, even if it doesn’t make up for the country’s ability to defend itself in the long run.”
In the upper ranks of Biden’s staff, the rapid collapse in Afghanistan only confirmed the decision to leave: another six months or a year or two if the downturn of the Afghan military will come so quickly, after nearly two decades of American presence. Or more will be nothing has changed.
Biden has argued for more than a decade that Afghanistan was a sort of purifier for the United States. He finds it corrupt, accustomed to America’s generosity and an unreliable fellow who must be made for himself.
His goal was to protect Americans from terrorist attacks, not to build a country.
As Vice President, he argued privately against Obama’s increase of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan to stabilize the country so that the United States and its allies could pull back their forces.
As president, Biden said in July that he made the decision to withdraw with a ‘clear eye’ after receiving daily battlefield updates.
His decision was that Afghanistan would be divided in a peace deal with the Taliban, rather than falling out all at once.
While Biden prides himself on speaking the straight truth to the American public, his swift assessment of the situation a month ago may come back to haunt him.
In July, he said, “There will never be a situation where you see people being picked up from Afghanistan from the roof of an embassy in the United States.”
“Afghanistan is very unlikely to have a unified government controlling the entire country”