President Joe Biden said in his first interview since the Taliban seized Kabul that “chaos” was inevitable once the United States decided to leave Afghanistan after two decades of war.
Biden told ABC News on August 18 that he didn’t know how U.S. forces could have exited “without chaos ensuing,” as witnessed at Kabul airport in recent days.
Western nations are scrambling to get thousands of diplomats, civilians, and eligible Afghans out of the country after the Taliban seized control of the capital over the weekend following a blitz offensive that saw a string of cities fall to the fundamentalist group in quick succession.
Biden said the Taliban is cooperating in helping get Americans and allied countries’ citizens out of the country but "we're having some more difficulty" in evacuating Afghan citizens who helped the international mission and others considered at risk under Taliban rule.
He said U.S. forces could remain in Kabul beyond an August 31 deadline if necessary to evacuate American citizens.
Earlier, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said about 4,500 U.S. military personnel are at Kabul airport and there "have been no hostile interactions with the Taliban and our lines of communication with Taliban commanders remain open."
The Pentagon chief added that U.S. troops do not have the capability to help people reach Kabul airport to be evacuated because his forces are focused on securing the airfield.
A top U.S. diplomat said the United States expects the Taliban to allow Afghans who wish to leave Afghanistan to depart, amid reports the group is blocking access to the airport.
"We have seen reports that the Taliban, contrary to their public statements and their commitments to our government, are blocking Afghans who wish to leave the country from reaching the airport," Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters.
U.S. officials are engaging directly with the Taliban "to make clear that we expect them to allow all American citizens, all third-country nationals, and all Afghans who wish to leave to do so safely and without harassment," she said.
U.S. officials on August 18 said they have evacuated 4,480 people since they took control of the airport over the weekend, including 2,000 people in the past 24 hours. Officials have said they hope to be able to evacuate up to 9,000 people a day.
Other nations, including European allies, are also evacuating people in coordination with the United States. About 5,000 diplomats, security staff, aid workers, and Afghans have been evacuated in the last 24 hours, a Western official told Reuters on August 18.
The quick collapse of the Western-backed government after Afghan security forces crumbled in the face of the Taliban advance has raised larger questions about the U.S.-led international mission in the country.
Despite unfolding mayhem, Biden defended his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan, blaming the Afghan government and military for not defending cities and the capital.
"When you had the government of Afghanistan, the leader of that government, get in a plane and taking off and going to another country; 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’s what happened,” Biden said in the interview.
Earlier, speaking to reporters alongside Austin, General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there had been no intelligence to indicate that the Afghanistan security forces and government would collapse in a period of 11 days as the Taliban captured major cities.
Milley said intelligence had "clearly indicated, multiple scenarios were possible," including a Taliban takeover following a rapid collapse of Afghan security forces and the government, a civil war or a negotiated settlement.
"The timeframe of rapid collapse - that was widely estimated and ranged from weeks to months and even years following our departure," Milley said.
Biden Says There Was No Way To Exit Afghanistan 'Without Chaos Ensuing'