State Department spokesman Ned Price was hounded by reporters on Thursday as he tried to explain the Biden administration’s decision to evacuate much of its embassy personnel, at the same time touting ‘diplomacy’ advances with the Taliban.
Neither State nor Defense nor the White House have any briefings scheduled for Friday, one day after the announcement.
‘This is not abandonment. This is not an evacuation,’ Price assured reporters numerous times throughout his briefing. ‘What this is is a reduction in the size of our civilian footprint.’
‘It appears to be a preparation for a full evacuation,’ one reporter said. ‘That’s not true,’ the spokesman responded.
‘I respect you and we all know you have a job to do,’ CBS reporter Christina Ruffini said to Price.
‘But there is no way you can sit there and say that the people of Afghanistan watching the Taliban take over provinces, watching their country crumble are now going to watch American diplomats get on military planes and leave the country that that sends a signal that the U.S. is with them in the long haul diplomatically.’
As of Friday, half of the nation’s 34 provincial capitals had fallen under Taliban control, including the second and third larges cities after Kabul.
Just three major cities are believed to be under government control, and the terrorists are now in a position to advance on Kabul.
CBS News reporter Christina Ruffini, above, ‘But there is no way you can sit there and say that the people of Afghanistan watching the Taliban take over provinces, watching their country crumble are now going to watch American diplomats get on military planes and leave the country that that sends a signal that the U.S. is with them in the long haul diplomatically’
Taliban fighters stand guard inside the city of Ghazni, southwest of Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Aug. 13, 2021. The Taliban have completed their sweep of the country’s south on Friday as they took four more provincial capitals in a lightning offensive that is gradually encircling Kabu
‘Look at what we’ve been doing. Look at the investment we have made in Afghanistan. Look at the investments … however you measure it,’ replied Price. ‘Whether it is humanitarian. Whether it’s political. Whether it’s diplomatic. Whether it is the security investments that we have made.’
The US has spent just under a trillion dollars fending off the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the past two decades, according to a Brown University estimate.
Amid fast-encroaching Taliban control in Afghanistan, the Biden administration for weeks asserted it would stay the course and continue to withdraw US troops by Aug. 31.
But on Thursday, the Department of State announced it would clear out non-essential embassy personnel, and would bring in 3,000 US troops to do so. Another 3500-4000 will be deployed to Kuwait on standby if the security situation worsens and 1,000 will be sent to Qatar to assist with Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs).
At the same time, the United Kingdom is sending 600 troops back to Afghanistan to help British nationals to evacuate the nation.
Taliban forces have gone door to door selling girls and women into sex slavery and beheading Aghan security forces who surrender. But Price touted the ‘diplomacy’ advances between the Taliban and Afghan government.
The economic centres of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second biggest city, and Lashkar Gah – the capital of the southern province of Helmand – were the latest to fall to the insurgency, prompting questions over how long the capital Kabul will hold out. Pictured: Taliban fighters in a vehicle along the roadside in Herat on Friday
A Taliban fighter holds a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) along the roadside in Herat, Afghanistan’s third biggest city, on Friday after the US announced it was sending 3,000 troops back into Afghanistan
‘This diplomacy has been ongoing for less than a year,’ Price said. ‘A year ago … the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban were not speaking to one another. They were not sitting in the same room. That has changed.’
Last year, US negotiators sat down with members of the Taliban to draw up a peace agreement between America and the Taliban. That agreement was supposed to be the start of an intra-Afghan dialogue.
Afghan peace negotiations began last September as the two sides tried to come to an agreement to end four decades of fighting, but those talks faltered over ‘unreasonable’ demands from the Taliban to turn Afghanistan into an Islamic emirate.
Some blame the US-Taliban agreement in part for growing Taliban reign.
‘We stop[ped] actively targeting the Taliban in Afghanistan during the — what I would call, again — the capitulation negotiations,’ retired General H.R. McMaster, President Trump’s national security advisor until 2018, said at a Wilson Event center on Thursday.
‘And then, once that capitulation agreement was signed, we were hands-off with the Taliban … Meanwhile, the Taliban were marshaling for this offensive.’
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby faced heat from the press in his subsequent briefing.
‘What do you think evacuation of civilians by the military is going to look like and how are you going to avoid a parallel with the fall of Saigon?’ AFP reporter Sylvie Lanteaume asked Kirby.
After the evacuation of almost all US civilian and military personnel from Saigon, the capital of south Vietnam, in 1975, the city fell to the Viet Cong, thus ending the war and establishing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
‘What this is going to look like is what it is, Sylvie. That the United States government is looking after the safety and security of our people,’ the press secretary said. ‘Making sure we, the military, supporting the safe movement of these individuals out of Afghanistan.’
‘We’re not walking away from our commitments to Afghan forces,’ Kirby continued. ‘Nobody is abandoning Afghanistan, we’re not walking away from it.’
‘They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation. The United States will insist to continue the commitments … they’ve got to want to fight. I think there’s still a possibility,’ Biden said on Monday of the Afghan military.
‘I do not regret my decision’ to withdraw, the president continued.
The Biden administration has faced intensifying pressure as swelling Taliban advances draw more public condemnations of the decision to withdraw.
‘All of this is a result of President Biden believing he knows more than his military advisors. President Biden apparently learned nothing from Iraq. When it comes to Afghanistan, the worst is yet to come.’ Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., wrote on Twitter Thursday.
‘A vacuum is being created in Afghanistan for the reemergence of ISIS and al-Qaeda who will attack U.S. interests. America is perceived as an unreliable ally throughout the world. Russia, Iran, and China will become stronger in the region,’ he continued.
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said in a statement Biden is ‘completely detached from reality.’
‘Instead of devising and implementing a strategy to responsibly withdraw our troops and ensure that Aghanistan never again becomes a safe harbor for terrorists, President Biden set an entirely arbitrary deadline.’
‘Because of the president’s disastrous decision, security within Afghanistan has collapsed to the point where the Department of State is evacuating embassy personnel from the country and the Department of Defense is deploying some 3,000 troops to assist in the evacuation process. We are now seeing the world’s most powerful country pleading with Taliban terrorists not to attack American citizens or murder the Afghans who had worked toward a free and democratic future.’
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., a notorious hawk who has long been opposed to leaving Afghanistan, called the withdrawal an ‘unconditional surrender.’
‘America’s enemies know that the slogan “ending endless war” actually means unconditional surrender. That is what we are seeing in Afghanistan today. American weakness is dangerously provocative,’ Cheney wrote on Twitter.