President Joe Biden flew in from Wilmington, DE Friday, August 20, to deliver remarks on the situation in Afghanistan, but he offered little to nothing new. He has, at least, changed his plans at the last moment, opting to remain in D.C. rather than return to Wilmington where he spent most of last week. Mr. Biden initially planned to deliver his address – taking no press questions, of course – and then immediately return to his personal residence in Delaware. Many are beginning to feel he either doesn’t know what to do or doesn’t care – or both; an image only bolstered by his refusal to remain at work. The schedule change came, notably, only after backlash from Republicans and questions from the media. Despite the crisis, the president has spent less than 72 hours at the White House this week.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, an unknown number of Americans and U.S. allies who were left behind by the sudden withdrawal search for a way out.
Biden actually began speaking about 1:50 PM – nearly an hour late. He claimed that significant progress had been made since Monday and that flights are leaving Kabul again. The president highlighted the thousands of people already evacuated, including non-Americans who worked with the U.S. in Afghanistan.
Though the administration continues to say that people will be evacuated, the situation on the ground, according to CNN reporter Clarissa Ward, isn’t going so smoothly, as the president’s words imply. Ward explained earlier in the day that she had been at the airport in Kabul for 12 hours – and on the tarmac for eight – and only saw a single plane leave in all that time for the U.S., which carried only American service members. Americans and allies are reportedly being hunted down door-to-door, and those hoping to escape via the airport must first pass through Taliban checkpoints, where folks are being arbitrarily beaten.
Biden’s explanation for the lack of flights this morning is that it was an intentional pause to make sure evacuees could be processed on the receiving end.
Biden promised to do everything in his power as the man in charge of the world’s strongest military to get Americans and our allies out of Afghanistan. “And let me be clear: Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home,” the president declared. He went on to warn any attacks on the airport or interference on the part of the Taliban will bring swift retribution.
The press certainly didn’t pull any punches. In response to the first question, the president promised to be just as committed to bringing out American allies in Afghanistan as he is bringing home U.S. citizens. When another reporter asked how the Biden administration could be so sure that Afghanistan wouldn’t present as large a terrorist threat as other parts of the world when it failed so terribly to realize how fast the Taliban would take back over, the president accused the journalist of comparing apples to oranges.
The ABC reporter asked if the administration would commit troops to Kabul to evacuate American citizens who can’t get to the airport. Mr. Biden claimed the issue does not exist. According to the president, constant contact has been maintained with the Taliban, and there is no indication that Americans are being stopped at Taliban checkpoints.
Despite saying “the buck stops with me” multiple times when getting back to his “fundamental point,” Biden did, in an offhand way, blame former President Donald Trump. Since his predecessor had promised to get out, Biden said he felt obligated to do it. The president went on to say there was no way to leave Afghanistan without seeing some chaos. Whether now or 15 years ago, it would have been the same. No answer was given to the question shouted at the end: “Why do you continue to trust the Taliban?”
This is only the third time the president has made an appearance to deliver remarks about the situation in Afghanistan, and the first time he hung around to answer (pre-selected) reporters’ questions. Unfortunately, the American people are hardly any better informed now than before he spoke.
Read more from James Fite.