President Joe Biden says he doesn’t believe that the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan can be chalked up as a failure.
Days after his defensive address from the White House—in which he attempted to shift the blame for the Taliban takeover to Donald Trump’s dealmaking and the Afghans’ reluctance to fight for their country—the president backed himself again on Good Morning America.
Speaking to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Biden said no one anticipated the ferocity of the Taliban’s offensive that saw the group take over the nation in little over a week. Asked if that was a failure of “intelligence, planning, execution, or judgment,” Biden hit back: “Look, I don’t think it was a failure. Look, it was a simple choice, George.”
He went on: “When you had the government of Afghanistan, the leader of that government getting on a plane taking off and going to another country, when you saw the significant collapse of the Afghan troops we had trained... that’s what happened, that’s simply what happened.”
In the interview broadcast Thursday, Biden repeated many of the arguments from his address on Monday. He again laid blame on Afghan leaders for their failure to fight the Taliban, said his hands were tied by the Trump-era Afghanistan withdrawal deal, and insisted that it was impossible to predict that the Taliban would take over the nation with such ease.
Absolving himself even further, Biden told GMA that he thought the chaos of the past week, which saw desperate Afghans clinging onto planes as they left Kabul’s international airport with some falling to their deaths after takeoff, was unavoidable regardless of how it was carried out.
“I don’t think it could have been handled in a way that, we’re gonna go back in hindsight and look... but the idea that somehow there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens. I don’t know how that happened,” Biden told Stephanopoulos.
The president was taken to task about his way-off-the-mark statement from July in which he said a Taliban takeover wasn’t going to happen under any kind of timeframe, never mind the weeklong period that it took in reality. Biden said at a news conference the time, “The Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”
Defending his prediction during the interview, Biden said, “The idea that the Taliban would take over was premised on the notion that, somehow, the 300,000 troops we had trained and equipped were going to just collapse, going to give up... I don’t think anybody anticipated that.”
Biden also denied receiving intelligence from his military advisers warning him against a complete withdrawal, saying, “No, they didn’t. They were split. That wasn’t true, that wasn’t true... No one said that to me.”
Turning to the future of Afghanistan, the president was asked if he believed the words of Taliban spokesmen, who have insisted this week that they won’t take violent revenge on Afghans who have opposed them or subjugate women with their ultraconservative policies from the past.
“I think [the Taliban is] going through sort of an existential crisis about do they want to be recognized by the international community as being a legitimate government,” said Biden. “I’m not sure they do.”
However, he said ensuring the rights of Afghan women was not a good reason for the U.S. military to remain indefinitely. “The idea that we’re able to deal with the rights of women around the world by military force is not rational,” he said. “The way to deal with that is putting economic, diplomatic, and international pressure on them to change their behavior.”
Finally, Biden was asked how he will explain to the American people what the Afghan war's purpose was when the anniversary of the September 11 attacks arrives in three weeks. He responded: “We went there for two reasons, George. Two reasons. One, to get bin Laden, and two, to wipe out as best we could, and we did, the al Qaeda in Afghanistan. We did it.”