President Joe Biden vowed Friday to ‘mobilize every resource’ to get Americans and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan – and took questions, from a pre-approved list of White House reporters, about the conflict for the first time in nine days.
‘This is one of the largest difficult airlifts in history and the only country in the world capable of projecting this much power on the far side of the world with this degree of precision is the United States of America,’ Biden said.
He insisted that the chaotic takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, leading to disarray at Kabul’s airport as westerners and Afghans flee did not taint the U.S.’s global reputation.
‘I have seen no question of our credibility of our allies from around the world,’ he said.
President Joe Biden spoke about the Afghanistan crisis from the White House on Friday
Earlier Friday the White House said Bidne ‘never shies’ away from taking questions – nine days after he last faced reporters and amid criticism over him dodging the media during the Afghanistan chaos.
And in the latest sign of how the turmoil in Afghanistan has rattled the plans of Biden’s strategy team, the White House announced Friday the president would not be traveling home to Wilmington as scheduled that night.
The statement about Biden’s willingness to face the press came as the White House communications team has kept Biden away from the reporters who follow him – and the president has avoided his typical proclivity to engage with them on issues of the day, even amid the unfolding international crisis.
Biden spoke from the White House on Wednesday about the coronavirus amid the evolving situation in Afghanistan, as his administration struggles to fire up a massive evacuation to get thousands of Americans, Afghans, and allied personnel out of the country after the fall of Kabul.
But he ignored a chorus of shouted questions about the situation there.
‘The president never shies away from taking questions, White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield told MSNBC in an interview Friday morning.
‘I’ll let him make a decision on whether he’s going to take questions this afternoon. But you saw he just did a full sit down interview on this just yesterday. So he is always willing to take questions, and I’ll let him decide if he is going to do that after his remarks today,’ she said.
Bedingfield was referencing to Wednesday’s sit-down Biden did with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, where he said there was always going to be ‘chaos’ when the U.S. departed after the 20-year war.
Shortly before Biden was set to speak at the White House, CNN reported that the U.S. had paused flights out of Afghanistan, amid a crush of people at the airport in Kabul.
Biden did speak to the country about Afghanistan Monday, but again took no questions from the White House press.
The last time he took questions was at a press conference on August 10th after Senate passage of infrastructure legislation and a budget resolution.
WH Comms Director Kate Bedingfield took questions about the situation in Afghanistan in a TV interview Friday. ‘The president never shies away from taking questions,’ she said
Biden avoided questions after a Wednesday speech on the coronavirus
Back on July 2nd, before the Taliban takeover of the country, a Biden quip signaled the sensitivity of the topic he was trying to avoid. ‘I want to talk about happy things man,’ he said when asked about Afghanistan.
Bedingfield, who gave an interview amid a downpour from the White House lawn Friday, was asked about Biden’s July 8th comments when he said a Taliban takeover was not an inevitability.
‘He was talking about whether this was a possibility and not an inevitability. And that’s an important distinction. Look, obviously as we’ve seen in all the reporting the last week, the president saw a wide array of intelligence,’ she responded.
‘But you heard from [Joint Chiefs Chairman] General Milley, you heard from Director [of National Intelligence] Haynes; they saw no intelligence that suggested that Kabul would fall within 11 days. That was not a scenario that was put in front of the president,’ she said.
‘So he saw a wide array of intelligence. But ultimately at the end of the day, he’s the commander in chief and the buck stops with him. He made the decision.
She also spoke to the state of play of evacuations: she said 9,000 people have been taken out since the Taliban takeover, with 14,000 since July.
‘We have taken control of the airport. Flights are leaving regularly. And I would say, that’s not something that happens without planning, that’s not something that just happened. The president planned for multiple contingencies,’ she said. ‘And that’s why he prepositioned troops in the Gulf able to move in immediately, taking control of the airport and setting up flights to get people out of the country. It’s the mission that he is laser focused on, getting every American who wants to leave Afghanistan out of Afghanistan, and moving people out as quickly as possible.’
Interviewer Willie Geist asked if the chaos on the ground pointed to why the U.S. should have evacuated people before pulling out most U.S. troops.
‘I’m glad you asked this, because this is a question people have raised,’ she responded. ‘I think it’s important to remember that at any point that we began a mass evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan, it was going to signal the imminent collapse of the Afghan government it was going to be a chaotic situation whether it happened five months ago, whether it happened five weeks ago or whether it happened this week,’ she said.
‘So our effort was to continue to try to ensure that the Afghan government had the opportunity to remain in place.’
Asked why Biden wasn’t loudly condemning the Taliban – who the military has been communicating with through channels and who have been allowing the evacuation to continue, despite a crackdown on dissent – she responded: ‘Of course he does not condone that kind of behavior. The most important thing in this moment right now is to get people out of the country who want to get out of the country.’
But she called human rights abuses ‘appalling’ and ‘horrifying.’