President Biden remained holed up at Camp David on Monday after spending the weekend largely out of sight while Afghanistan crumbled into chaos, with a senior adviser only able to say he would address the nation ‘soon.’
With the United Nations Security Council and European ministers due to hold crisis meetings to address the rapid return of the Taliban, Biden and his officials kept a low profile amid mounting questions about their bungling departure from Afghanistan.
While U.S. military planes flew in an out of Kabul airport to rescue American nationals, it was left to National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan to defend Biden’s decision for a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan.
He said staying longer would not have changed the overall outcome but was vague about when the nation might hear from its commander in chief.
‘They can expect to hear from the president soon. He’s right now actively engaged with his national security team,’ he told Good Morning America.
‘He is working the situation hard.
‘He is focused on ensuring the mission which is to secure that airport and continue these evacuations that that mission continues and brought to a positive conclusion. He’s deeply engaged on it.
‘At the right point he will address the American people.’
National Security Adviser said the nation would hear from President Biden ‘at the right point’ as criticism mounts of his decision to stay away from Washington amid deepening crisis
Afghans climb on top of a passenger jet at Kabul’s airport amid chaotic scenes as civilians try to find safe passage out of the Afghan capital after Taliban takeover
The White House released an image of President Biden at Camp David as officials fend off growing criticism of his absence from Washington
Former President Trump mocked Biden’s absence.
‘The outcome in Afghanistan would have been totally different if the Trump Administration had been in charge,’ he said in an emailed statement.
‘Who or what will Joe Biden surrender to next?
‘Someone should ask him, if they can find him.’
The nature and speed of the Afghan government’s collapse in the face of a Taliban advance poses the most serious test of Biden’s presidency so far.
Five people were reported killed during chaos at Kabul airport on Monday, as U.S. troops guarded the evacuation of embassy staff a day after the Taliban seized the Afghan capita virtually unopposed.
A day earlier President Ashraf Ghani flew out of the country.
The result is an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe and questions about how a president who trumpeted his foreign experience during last year’s campaign could have got things so wrong.
But on Monday, Sullivan admitted that the administration was surprised at how quickly Kabul had fallen.
‘It is certainly the case that the speed with which cities fell was much greater than anyone anticipated,’ he told NBC’s Today show.
Like other officials, he tried to distance the Biden administration from the collapse, blaming Afghanistan’s government and armed forces and said staying longer would have made little difference.
Taliban fighters stand guard on the road to the Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.
Afghans crowd on to the apron at Kabul airport as they try to flee the country
‘Part of the reason for that… is because at the end of the day, despite the fact that we spent 20 years and tens of billions of dollars to get the best equipment, the best training and the best capacity to the national Afghan security forces, we could not give them the will,’ he said.
Biden, he also said, was ready to work with other leaders in trying to protect Afghans.
‘He is prepared to marshal the international community on this issue. He cares passionately about these human rights questions, and we will stay focused on them in the period ahead,’ he said.
‘But that was not a reason for the United States to enter a third decade of war in the middle of an internal conflict in another country.’
Republicans laid the blame squarely with Biden.
In a joint statement, three former security officials in the Trump administration said withdrawal was the right decision but had been badly botched.
‘The difference between then and now is leadership,’ said Lt. General (Ret.) Keith Kellogg, former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, and former Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf
‘The Biden Administration alone owns this failure, adding Afghanistan to Biden’s long history of, as President Obama’s Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, being “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”‘