In his first interview following the Taliban capture of Afghanistan, President Joe Biden defended his choice to withdraw from Afghanistan and said it was impossible to do so without “chaos ensuing.”
“No, 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 ABC News in a pre-recorded interview on Wednesday.
The president has received significant blowback from members of Congress, world leaders, and mainstream news outlets for how his administration handled the pullout and ensuing Taliban capture of the country. Currently, there are still thousands of Americans trapped in the country, while the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday said the government cannot ensure their safe passage to the Kabul airport, where evacuation flights await.
According to excerpts of his ABC News interview with George Stephanopoulos, Biden did not appear to admit there were any failures on his administration’s part. During his Monday news conference, he noted that the Taliban takeover occurred more quickly than he anticipated but also shifted the blame for the Afghan collapse on the army, government, and former President Donald Trump’s administration for negotiating a deal last year with the Taliban.
“Look, one of the things we didn’t know is what the Taliban would do in terms of trying to keep people from getting out. What they would do. What are they doing now? They’re cooperating, letting American citizens get out, American personnel get out, embassies get out, et cetera, but they’re having … we’re having some more difficulty having those who helped us when we were in there,” Biden said.
Biden’s decision led to scenes of chaos in Afghanistan, where as many as 10,000 Americans are reportedly still trapped. The United States only days ago authorized the deployment of several thousand additional troops at the Kabul airport to evacuate people.
The State Department on Wednesday confirmed that Taliban extremists are blocking some Afghans from entering the airport. At the same time, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters in a separate news conference that Taliban members are checking Americans’ and Afghans’ paperwork so they can enter the facility.
The Taliban is considered a global terrorist organization by a number of federal agencies.
Biden also responded to a question about footage showing people trying to flee Afghanistan dropping to their deaths from U.S. military planes. “That was four days ago, five days ago!” Biden shot back during the ABC News interview, although that footage was shot on Monday.
“We have to gain control of this. We have to move this more quickly. We have to move in a way in which we can take control of that airport. And we did,” Biden said.
In the interview Wednesday, the president again repeated his claim that the Afghan government and army lacked the will to fight the Taliban despite the United States pouring years of effort and billions of dollars into training and equipping them.
“When you saw the significant collapse of the Afghan troops we had trained, up to 300,000 of them, just leaving their equipment and taking off—that was, you know, I’m not, that’s what happened,” Biden said. “That’s simply what happened. And so the question was, in the beginning, the threshold question was, do we commit to leave within the timeframe we set, do we extend it to Sept. 1, or do we put significantly more troops in?”
He concluded by saying that “I had a simple choice. If I said, ‘we’re gonna stay,’ then we’d better be prepared to put a whole lot hell of a lot more troops in.”