In his first sit-down interview since the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he doesn’t believe there was any way to pull U.S. troops out of the country “without chaos ensuing.”
Biden defended the way the U.S. exited Afghanistan as he sat down for an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, who pressed the president on whether there were mistakes in the withdrawal process.
“No, I don’t think it could have been handled in a way that ― we’re going to 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,” said Biden, who inherited a deal former President Donald Trump made with the country’s militant Taliban group to remove U.S. troops that have been stationed in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years.
Pulling out troops has, indeed, been chaotic. Though the Taliban were increasing their hold on Afghanistan, Biden proceeded with the exit plans that began in May and handed the reins to Afghan forces, saying it was “highly unlikely” the Taliban would seize complete control. That proved to be false, as the Taliban made serious gains this month and have since taken over. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who accused the U.S. of making an abrupt exit, fled the country.
Biden’s remarks to Stephanopoulos diverge from the vision he offered in April.
“We’ll do it responsibly, deliberately and safely,” he said in April of the plans to remove U.S. troops.
Biden admitted that his administration didn’t anticipate Taliban forces making it difficult to evacuate everyone the U.S. wants to get out, including Afghans who aided U.S. troops and other Americans living and working there during the past two decades.
“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,” Biden said. “What are they doing now? They’re cooperating, letting American citizens get out, American personnel get out, but ... we’re having some more difficulty” helping those who had helped the U.S.
Widely shared footage this week has shown large swaths of Afghans ― fearful of once again living under the militant tyranny of the Taliban, which ruled most of the country from 1996 to 2001 ― desperate to flee the nation. In one harrowing video, some clung to the side of a U.S. military plane as it took off, leaving them to fall to their deaths.
When Stephanopoulos brought up the scenes from the airport, Biden grew defensive.
“That was four days ago, five days ago,” Biden said. The footage is from Monday.
When asked for his reaction to those images, Biden said: “What I thought was, 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.”