A dozen diplomats sent a confidential memo to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on July 13 that the Taliban was rapidly gaining ground and the city was vulnerable to collapse
State Department officials in the Kabul embassy told the Biden administration last month that the Afghan capital would fall and to speed up evacuations, a new report claims.
A dozen diplomats sent a confidential memo in a dissent channel to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on July 13 that the Taliban was rapidly gaining ground and the city was vulnerable to collapse, the Wall Street Journal reported.
On July 8, President Biden said it was ‘highly unlikely’ the Taliban would take control of Afghanistan and denied there would be chaos in Kabul.
It is the latest in a series of reported warnings the Biden administration potentially ignored as American forces left and the insurgents swept through the country with ease.
There are mounting questions over how the White House, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence services were evaluating the future of Afghanistan, the threat of the Taliban and how quickly power would change hands.
Afghan security forces were collapsing, they said, and offered ways to mitigate the advancing insurgents.
But it may have been too late to stop them.
The State Department memo, according to the report, also called for the government to use tougher language on the violence in the past from the Taliban and urged them to start collecting information for Afghan allies who qualified for Special Immigrant Visas after working with US forces.
The Journal reported that 23 Embassy staffers signed the cable and rushed to deliver it considering the deteriorating situation in Kabul.
Blinken reviewed the cable, a personal familiar with it told the paper.
State Department spokesman Ned Price told the Journal: ‘He’s made clear that he welcomes and encourages use of the dissent channel, and is committed to its revitalization. We value constructive internal dissent.’
The memo urged the administration to start flights evacuating people out of the country no later than August 1st.
A former CIA counter-terrorism chief also advised the president’s campaign Kabul would crumble within days with a depleted American presence.
But in an interview released on Thursday morning, President Biden claimed that he was never told that such a rapid collapse was possible.
And a day earlier, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he never saw any intelligence warning that the Afghan government could fall so quickly.
‘There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days,’ Milley said.
Their claims were disputed in a detailed account describing the state of understanding at the CIA written by Douglas London, the agency’s former counter-terrorism chief for south and south-west Asia, which offered a very different assessment.
He said the rapid collapse was one of a number of possible scenarios.
‘Ultimately, it was assessed, Afghan forces might capitulate under the circumstances we witnessed, in projections highlighted to Trump officials and future Biden officials alike,’ he wrote on the Just Security website.
Former CIA analyst Douglas London (left) disputed President Biden’s claim that he was not warned Afghan forces could collapse within days of U.S. withdrawal. London said it was among a range of assessments briefed to Biden and Trump officials
Taliban gunmen police a crowd of protesters trying to raise the flag of the Islamic Republican of Afghanistan during an Independence Day rally at Pashtunistan Square in Kabul
London, who also served as a volunteer adviser to the Biden campaign after leaving the CIA in 2019, scoffed at the president’s claim that events in Afghanistan unfolded more rapidly than expected.
‘That’s misleading at best,’ he said. ‘The CIA anticipated it as a possible scenario.’
The Biden administration remains under intense pressure to explain what it did and did not know as it pushed ahead with the president’s order to bring home troops by Sept. 11.
Allies have said they were blindsided by the rapid pace and were not kept abreast of decision-making.
Britain’s most senior general said on Wednesday that the decision to abruptly leave Bagram air base, about 25 miles north of Kabul, on July 1 shattered Afghan morale.
London’s account says the Trump and Biden teams were given different estimates of how long President Ashraf Ghani and his security forces could resist a Taliban retreat, depending on the speed of withdrawal.
‘So, was it 30 days from withdrawal to collapse? 60? 18 months? Actually, it was all of the above, the projections aligning with the various “what ifs,”‘ he wrote.
Taliban gunmen patrol Kabul after their rapid advance across Afghanistan. Foreign forces are focused on evacuating civilians from the city’s airport
Biden has repeatedly said the speed of the Taliban advance, and the collapse of Afghan government forces, surprised his administration
‘There was nothing that I or anyone else saw it indicated a collapse of this army in this government in 11 days,’ said Gen. Mark Milley
But both presidents, he said, were motivated by seeking a political win in bringing home troops and ending the country’s ‘forever wars.’
‘For the candidate, who had long advocated withdrawal, the outcome was, as it had been with Trump, a foregone conclusion despite what many among his counterterrorism advisors counseled,’ he wrote.
‘President Biden himself has said as much in terms of his mind being made up.’
During the past week, Biden has shifted blame to the intelligence community, insisting that the rapid advance of the Taliban had taken the administration by surprise.
‘The truth is: This did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated,’ he said last week.
And in an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, Biden said there was no warning of such a precipitous fall.
‘Number one, as you know, the intelligence community did not say back in June or July that, in fact, this was gonna collapse like it did,’ he said.
Stephanopoulos proved for more detail. He asked: ‘They thought the Taliban would take over, but not this quickly?’
Biden replied: ‘But not this quickly. Not even close.’
In another part of the interview he said he could not remember ever being advised by senior Pentagon figures to maintain a military presence in the country.
Reports suggest that his generals urged him to leave 2,500 troops to support and train the Afghan force.
‘No, no one said that to me that I can recall,’ Biden said.
Milley echoed his commander-in-chief’s words during an earlier briefing when he said he had seen a range of forecasts.
‘The timeframe of a potential collapse was widely estimated and ranged from weeks to months and even years following our departure,’ he said.
‘There was nothing that I or anyone else saw it indicated a collapse of this army in this government in 11 days.’
After Kabul fell, regional experts have pointed out that anyone with an understanding of Afghanistan should have expected a possible cascade of surrenders or negotiations as commanders sensed the switch of momentum from government to Taliban.
London said those assessments were part of the briefings.
‘Switching sides for a better deal or to fight another day is a hallmark of Afghan history,’ he wrote. ‘And US policy to impose an American blueprint for a strong central government and integrated national army served only to enable Ghani’s disastrous and uncompromising stewardship.’
Biden v. Reality: Biden falsely stated the US has no troops in Syria – when there are 900 – in a series of lies of bungled statements in ABC interview
Biden says there was ‘no way’ to leave Afghanistan without chaos ensuing, but six weeks ago he said a Taliban takeover was ‘highly unlikely.’
Biden told Stephanopoulos that chaos in Kabul was always in the cards for an Afghanistan withdrawal, but just six weeks ago he said that a Taliban takeover was ‘highly unlikely.’
‘There’s no way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens,’ the president said in a Wednesday interview.
In his July 8 briefing, Biden assured the press: ‘It is not inevitable. The likelihood of the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.’
And even though the president said mayhem was inevitable, he laid blame on Afghani forces unwilling to fight and President Ashraf Ghani who fled the country.
‘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 was, you know, I’m not, that’s what happened. That’s simply what happened’, he said.
Biden says US doesn’t have a military presence in Syria, but 900 troops remain there.
The president told Stephanopoulos that al-Qaeda could build up a significant presence in Afghanistan sooner than the original intelligent assessment of 18 to 24 months, but the US should be more worried about the threat from al-Qaeda in Syria.
‘Al Qaeda, ISIS, they metastasize. There’s a significantly greater threat to the United States from Syria. There’s a significantly greater threat from East Africa. There’s significant greater threat to other places in the world than it is from the mountains of Afghanistan,’ Biden said.
‘We have maintained the ability to have an over-the-horizon capability to take them out. We’re– we don’t have military in Syria to make sure that we’re gonna be protected–‘
The US does in fact have troops in Syria – 900 of them. Those troops are advising and supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces to fight the Islamic State, a role they have played since the US-led intervention in 2014.
Biden says he can’t recall military officials suggesting he keep the ‘stable’ 2,500 troop presence in Afghanistan, though reports show Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley made exactly such a request.
‘Your top military advisers warned against withdrawing on this timeline – they wanted you to keep about 2,500 troops,’ Stephanopoulos said to Biden.
‘No, they didn’t,’ the president pushed back. ‘It was split. That wasn’t true. That wasn’t true.’
‘They didn’t tell you they wanted troops to stay?’ Stephanopoulos asked.
‘No, not in terms of whether we were going to get out in a time frame – all troops, they didn’t argue against that,’ Biden reiterated.
The Wall Street Journal reported the president ignored Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley’s request to keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan and did not yield Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s warning about the stability of the country without a U.S. troop presence.
Stephanopoulos pressed the president on the report: ‘Your military advisers did not tell you, ‘No, we should just keep 2,500 troops, it’s been a stable situation for the last several years, we can do that, we can continue to do that?’
‘No, no one said that to me that I can recall,’ Biden said.
An exasperated Milley declined to rule out ‘regrets’ on Thursday. ‘Right now the focus is on the mission [evacuating Americans and allies] … there will be plenty of time to talk about regrets,’ he said when asked if the US should have done anything differently.
Biden argued that the recent stability was not due to the troop presence but due to a peace deal with the Taliban signed by President Trump promising US forces would leave, which Biden has said he was bound to honor.
Milley did say on Wednesday intelligence had only predicted Kabul could fall to the Taliban in a matter of weeks, months or years, not days.
‘There’s nothing that I or anyone saw indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days,’ Milley added, further reflecting the Biden administration’s frustration with Afghan security forces they believe were unwilling to fight.
‘This comes down to an issue of will and leadership. And no, I did not, nor did anyone else, see a collapse of an army of that size in 11 days,’ Milley underscored again.
Biden says US has control of Kabul airport, though Taliban fighters have formed a wall around the airport and are controlling who goes in and out.
‘Now, granted, it took two days to take control of the airport. We have control of the airport now,’ Biden told Stephanopoulos.
Heart-wrenching scenes on Monday showed Afghanis desperate to flee throwing themselves in front of US aircraft taxiing down the runway. US service members fired shots killing at least two civilians in an effort to push the Afghans back behind airport walls to clear out Americans.
And on Wednesday night US troops used teargas and fired shots into the air to control the increasingly desperate crowds of Afghans at the airport, while Taliban fighters blocked Westerners from getting to evacuation planes in a fifth day of chaos.
The Taliban appear to be tightening their grip, instituting checkpoints and stopping people from even getting to the airport, and there are no troops there on the ground to retrieve them because they are all at the airport defending it from a stampede of frightened natives.
The Taliban has promised foreign governments that they will let through all Westerners and civilians who want to board flights, but even ABC journalists were blocked from getting to the airport on Thursday despite having paperwork proving who they were.
Since Aug. 14, only 7,000 have been evacuated, though Biden said the US was trying to bring home 10,000-15,000 Americans and another 50,000-60,000 Afghanis, all by Aug. 31 – 12 days from now.
Between Tuesday and Wednesday, US forces only removed 2,000 people on 18 jets that could have taken 10,000.
Some on the ground called it a ‘lottery’ and described people with paperwork getting through but being turned away, while others without any ticket out are making their way onto planes through luck and force.
On Wednesday, Afghan mothers who can’t get through handed their babies over the wall to Western soldiers to be put on flights without them. American troops have been seen helping some women over the barbed wire, while shouting at others to stand back.
Biden says ‘no one is being killed’ at Kabul airport, though the Taliban have killed at least 12.
‘But, look, b– but no one’s being killed right now, God forgive me if I’m wrong about that, but no one’s being killed right now,’ Biden told Stephanopoulos when the ABC anchor noted ‘pandemonium’ at the Kabul airport.
There are at least 12 confirmed deaths in the chaotic scenes around the airport, according to Taliban and NATO officials. Those deaths included the two who were shot by the US military at the airfield and two who fell to their deaths from a US plane as it took off.
Their deaths were caused by either gunshots or stampedes, a Taliban official told Reuters on Thursday. He told Afghans to go home if they didn’t have the proper paperwork to leave, adding a veiled warning: ‘We don’t want to hurt anyone at the airport.’
Biden says Afghani stowaways plunging to their death was ‘four or five days ago,’ – it was two days before the interview.
‘We’ve all seen the pictures. We’ve seen those hundreds of people packed into a C-17. You’ve seen Afghans falling –’ Stephanopoulos said before being cut off by the president.
‘That was four days ago, five days ago,’ Biden quipped, seemingly brushing off harrowing footage that emerged on Monday of two Afghans falling to their deaths after clinging to the wheels of a US evacuation flight,
‘What did you think when you first saw those pictures?’
‘What I thought was we have to gain control of this,’ he said. ‘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.’
READ THE FULL TRANSCRIPT OF BIDEN’S AFGHANISTAN INTERVIEW WITH GOOD MORNING AMERICA
On Thursday morning, ABC released the full transcript of President Biden’s Good Morning America interview with George Stephanopoulos.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. President, thank you for doing this.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Thank you for doin’ it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s get right to it. Back in July, you said a Taliban takeover was highly unlikely. Was the intelligence wrong, or did you downplay it?
BIDEN: I think — there was no consensus. If you go back and look at the intelligence reports, they said that it’s more likely to be sometime by the end of the year. The idea that the tal — and then it goes further on, even as late as August. I think you’re gonna see — the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and others speaking about this later today.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you didn’t put a timeline on it when you said it was highly unlikely. You just said flat out, ‘It’s highly unlikely the Taliban would take over.’
BIDEN: Yeah. Well, the question was whether or not it w– the idea that the Taliban would take over was premised on the notion that the — that somehow, the 300,000 troops we had trained and equipped was gonna just collapse, they were gonna give up. I don’t think anybody anticipated that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you know that Senator McConnell, others say this was not only predictable, it was predicted, including by him, based on intelligence briefings he was getting.
BIDEN: What — what did he say was predicted?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator McConnell said it was predictable that the Taliban was gonna take over.
BIDEN: Well, by the end of the year, I said that’s that was — that was a real possibility. But no one said it was gonna take over then when it was bein’ asked.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So when you look at what’s happened over the last week, was it a failure of intelligence, planning, execution or judgment?
BIDEN: Look, I don’t think it was a fa– look, it was a simple choice, George. When the– when the Taliban — let me back — put it another way. 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 ta– 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– this — that — that’s what happened.
That’s simply what happened. So the question was in the beginning the– the threshold question was, do we commit to leave within the timeframe we’ve set? We extended it to September 1st. Or do we put significantly more troops in? I hear people say, ‘Well, you had 2,500 folks in there and nothin’ was happening. You know, there wasn’t any war.’
But guess what? The fact was that the reason it wasn’t happening is the last president negotiated a year earlier that he’d be out by May 1st and that– in return, there’d be no attack on American forces. That’s what was done. That’s why nothing was happening. But the idea if I had said — I had a simple choice. If I had said, ‘We’re gonna stay,’ then we’d better prepare to put a whole hell of a lot more troops in —
President Joe Biden speaks with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Aug. 18, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But your top military advisors warned against withdrawing on this timeline. They wanted you to keep about 2,500 troops.
BIDEN: No, they didn’t. It was split. Tha– that wasn’t true. That wasn’t true.
STEPHANOPOULOS: They didn’t tell you that they wanted troops to stay?
BIDEN: No. Not at — not in terms of whether we were going to get out in a timeframe all troops. They didn’t argue against that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So no one told — your military advisors did not tell you, ‘No, we should just keep 2,500 troops. It’s been a stable situation for the last several years. We can do that. We can continue to do that’?
BIDEN: No. No one said that to me that I can recall. Look, George, the reason why it’s been stable for a year is because the last president said, ‘We’re leaving. And here’s the deal I wanna make with you, Taliban. We’re agreeing to leave if you agree not to attack us between now and the time we leave on May the 1st.’
I got into office, George. Less than two months after I elected to office, I was sworn in, all of a sudden, I have a May 1 deadline. I have a May 1 deadline. I got one of two choices. Do I say we’re staying? And do you think we would not have to put a hell of a lot more troops? B– you know, we had hundreds– we had tens of thousands of troops there before. Tens of thousands.
Do you think we woulda — that we would’ve just said, ‘No problem. Don’t worry about it, we’re not gonna attack anybody. We’re okay’? In the meantime, the Taliban was takin’ territory all throughout the country in the north and down in the south, in the Pasthtun area.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So would you have withdrawn troops like this even if President Trump had not made that deal with the Taliban?
BIDEN: I would’ve tried to figure out how to withdraw those troops, yes, because look, George. There is no good time to leave Afghanistan. Fifteen years ago would’ve been a problem, 15 years from now. The basic choice is am I gonna send your sons and your daughters to war in Afghanistan in perpetuity?
BIDEN: No one can name for me a time when this would end. And what– wha– wha– what– what constitutes defeat of the Taliban? What constitutes defeat? Would we have left then? Let’s say they surrender like before. OK. Do we leave then? Do you think anybody– the same people who think we should stay would’ve said, ‘No, good time to go’? We spent over $1 trillion, George, 20 years. There was no good time to leave.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But if there’s no good time, if you know you’re gonna have to leave eventually, why not have th– everything in place to make sure Americans could get out, to make sure our Afghan allies get out, so we don’t have these chaotic scenes in Kabul?
BIDEN: Number one, as you know, the intelligence community did not say back in June or July that, in fact, this was gonna collapse like it did. Number one.
STEPHANOPOULOS: They thought the Taliban would take over, but not this quickly?
BIDEN: But not this quickly. Not even close. We had already issued several thousand passports to the– the SIVs, the people– the– the– the translators when I came into office before we had negotiated getting out at the end of s– August.
Secondly, we’re in a position where what we did was took precautions. That’s why I authorized that there be 6,000 American troops to flow in to accommodate this exit, number one. And number two, provided all that aircraft in the Gulf to get people out. We pre-positioned all that, anticipated that. Now, granted, it took two days to take control of the airport. We have control of the airport now.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Still a lotta pandemonium outside the airport.
BIDEN: Oh, there is. But, look, b– but no one’s being killed right now, God forgive me if I’m wrong about that, but no one’s being killed right now. People are– we got 1,000-somewhat, 1,200 out, yesterday, a couple thousand today. And it’s increasing. We’re gonna get those people out.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But we’ve all seen the pictures. We’ve seen those hundreds of people packed into a C-17. You’ve seen Afghans falling–
BIDEN: That was four days ago, five days ago.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What did you think when you first saw those pictures?
BIDEN: What I thought was we ha– 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.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I– I think a lot of– a lot of Americans, and a l– even a lot of veterans who served in Afghanistan agree with you on the big, strategic picture. They believe we had to get out. But I wonder how you respond to an Army Special Forces officer, Javier McKay (PH). He did seven tours. He was shot twice. He agrees with you. He says, ‘We have to cut our losses in Afghanistan.’ But he adds, ‘I just wish we could’ve left with honor.’
BIDEN: Look, that’s like askin’ my deceased son Beau, who spent six months in Kosovo and a year in Iraq as a Navy captain and then major– I mean, as an Army major. And, you know, I’m sure h– he had regrets comin’ out of Afganista– I mean, out of Iraq.
He had regrets to what’s– how– how it’s going. But the idea– what’s the alternative? The alternative is why are we staying in Afghanistan? Why are we there? Don’t you think that the one– you know who’s most disappointed in us getting out? Russia and China. They’d love us to continue to have to–
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you don’t think this could’ve been handled, this exit could’ve been handled better in any way? No mistakes?
BIDEN: No. I– I don’t think it could’ve been handled in a way that there– we– 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.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So for you, that was always priced into the decision?
BIDEN: Yes. Now, exactly what happened– is not priced in. But I knew that they’re gonna have an enormous, enorm– 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 in having those who helped us when we were in there–
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we don’t really know what’s happening outside of Kabul.
BIDEN: Pardon me?
STEPHANOPOULOS: We don’t really know what’s happening outside of Kabul.
BIDEN: Well– we do know generically and in some specificity what’s happening outside of Kabul. We don’t know it in great detail. But we do know. And guess what? The Taliban knows if they take on American citizens or American military, we will strike them back like hell won’t have it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: All troops are supposed to be out by August 31st. Even if Americans and our Afghan allies are still trying to get out, they’re gonna leave?
BIDEN: We’re gonna do everything in our power to get all Americans out and our allies out.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Does that mean troops will stay beyond August 31st if necessary?
BIDEN: It depends on where we are and whether we can get– ramp these numbers up to 5,000 to 7,000 a day coming out. If that’s the case, we’ll be– they’ll all be out.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ‘Cause we’ve got, like, 10,000 to 15,000 Americans in the country right now, right? And are you committed to making sure that the troops stay until every American who wants to be out–
STEPHANOPOULOS: — is out?
STEPHANOPOULOS: How about our Afghan allies? We have about 80,000 people–
BIDEN: Well, that’s not the s–
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that too high?
BIDEN: That’s too high.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How many–
BIDEN: The estimate we’re giving is somewhere between 50,000 and 65,000 folks total, counting their families.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Does the commitment hold for them as well?
BIDEN: The commitment holds to get everyone out that, in fact, we can get out and everyone that should come out. And that’s the objective. That’s what we’re doing now, that’s the path we’re on. And I think we’ll get there.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So Americans should understand that troops might have to be there beyond August 31st?
BIDEN: No. Americans should understand that we’re gonna try to get it done before August 31st.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But if we don’t, the troops will stay–
BIDEN: If — if we don’t, we’ll determine at the time who’s left.
BIDEN: And if you’re American force — if there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay to get them all out.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You talked about our adversaries, China and Russia. You already see China telling Taiwan, ‘See? You can’t count on the Americans.’ (LAUGH)
BIDEN: Sh– why wouldn’t China say that? Look, George, the idea that w– there’s a fundamental difference between– between Taiwan, South Korea, NATO. We are in a situation where they are in– entities we’ve made agreements with based on not a civil war they’re having on that island or in South Korea, but on an agreement where they have a unity government that, in fact, is trying to keep bad guys from doin’ bad things to them.
We have made– kept every commitment. We made a sacred commitment to Article Five that if in fact anyone were to invade or take action against our NATO allies, we would respond. Same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with– Taiwan. It’s not even comparable to talk about that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, but those–
BIDEN: It’s not comparable to t–
STEPHANOPOULOS: –who say, ‘Look, America cannot be trusted now, America does not keep its promises–‘
BIDEN: Who– who’s gonna say that? Look, before I made this decision, I met with all our allies, our NATO allies in Europe. They agreed. We should be getting out.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Did they have a choice?
BIDEN: Sure, they had a choice. Look, the one thing I promise you in private, NATO allies are not quiet. You remember from your old days. They’re not gonna be quiet. And so– and by the way, you know, what we’re gonna be doing is we’re gonna be putting together a group of the G-7, the folks that we work with the most– to– I was on the phone with– with Angela Merkel today. I was on the phone with the British prime minister. I’m gonna be talking to Macron in France to make sure we have a coherent view of how we’re gonna deal from this point on.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What happens now in Afghanistan? Do you believe the Taliban have changed?
BIDEN: No. I think– let me put it this way. I think they’re going through sort of an existential crisis about do they want to be recognized by the international community as being a legitimate government. I’m not sure they do. But look, they have–
STEPHANOPOULOS: They care about their beliefs more?
BIDEN: Well, they do. But they also care about whether they have food to eat, whether they have an income that they can provide for their f– that they can make any money and run an economy. They care about whether or not they can hold together the society that they in fact say they care so much about.
I’m not counting on any of that. I’m not cou– but that is part of what I think is going on right now in terms of I– I’m not sure I would’ve predicted, George, nor would you or anyone else, that when we decided to leave, that they’d provide safe passage for Americans to get out.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Beyond Americans, what do we owe the Afghans who are left behind, particularly Afghan women who are facing the prospect of subjugation again?
BIDEN: As many as we can get out, we should. For example, I had a meeting today for a couple hours in the Situation Room just below here. There are Afghan women outside the gate. I told ’em, ‘Get ’em on the planes. Get them out. Get them out. Get their families out if you can.’
But here’s the deal, George. The idea that we’re able to deal with the rights of women around the world by military force is not rational. Not rational. Look what’s happened to the Uighurs in western China. Look what’s happening in other parts of the world.
Look what’s happenin’ in, you know, in– in the Congo. I mean, there are a lotta places where women are being subjugated. The way to deal with that is not with a military invasion. The way to deal with that is putting economic, diplomatic, and national pre– international pressure on them to change their behavior.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How about the threat to the United States? Most intelligence analysis has predicted that Al Qaeda would come back 18 to 24 months after a withdrawal of American troops. Is that analysis now being revised? Could it be sooner?
BIDEN: It could be. But George, look, here’s the deal. Al Qaeda, ISIS, they metastasize. There’s a significantly greater threat to the United States from Syria. There’s a significantly greater threat from East Africa. There’s significant greater threat to other places in the world than it is from the mountains of Afghanistan. And we have maintained the ability to have an over-the-horizon capability to take them out. We’re– we don’t have military in Syria to make sure that we’re gonna be protected–
STEPHANOPOULOS: And you’re confident we’re gonna have that in Afghanistan?
BIDEN: Yeah. I’m confident we’re gonna have the overriding capability, yes. Look, George, it’s like asking me, you know, am I confident that people are gonna act even remotely rationally. Here’s the deal. The deal is the threat from Al Qaeda and their associate organizations is greater in other parts of the world to the United States than it is from Afghanistan.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And th– that tells you that you’re– it’s safe to leave?
BIDEN: No. That tells me that– my dad used to have an expression, George. If everything’s equally important to you, nothing’s important to you. We should be focusing on where the threat is the greatest. And the threat– the idea– we can continue to spend $1 trillion and have tens of thousands of American forces in Afghanistan when we have what’s going on around the world, in the Middle East and North Africa and west– I mean, excuse me– yeah, North Africa and Western Africa. The idea we can do that and ignore those– those looming problems, growing problems, is not– not rational.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Final question on this. You know, in a couple weeks, we’re all gonna commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11. The Taliban are gonna be ruling Afghanistan, just l– like they were when our country was attacked. How do you explain that to the American people?
BIDEN: Not true. It’s not true. They’re not gonna look just like they were we were attacked. There was a guy named Osama bin Laden that was still alive and well. They were organized in a big way, that they had significant help from arou– from other parts of the world.
We went there for two reasons, George. Two reasons. One, to get Bin Laden, and two, to wipe out as best we could, and we did, the Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. We did it. Then what happened? Began to morph into the notion that, instead of having a counterterrorism capability to have small forces there in– or in the region to be able to take on Al Qaeda if it tried to reconstitute, we decided to engage in nation building. In nation building. That never made any sense to me.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It sounds like you think we shoulda gotten out a long time ago–
BIDEN: We should’ve.
STEPHANOPOULOS: –and– and accept the idea that it was gonna be messy no matter what.
BIDEN: Well, by the– what would be messy?
STEPHANOPOULOS: The exit–
BIDEN: If we had gotten out a long time ago– getting out would be messy no matter when it occurred. I ask you, you want me to stay, you want us to stay and send your kids back to Afghanistan? How about it? Are you g– if you had a son or daughter, would you send them in Afghanistan now? Or later?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Would be hard, but a lot of families have done it.
BIDEN: They’ve done it because, in fact, there was a circumstance that was different when we started. We were there for two reasons, George. And we accomplished both ten years ago. We got Osama bin Laden. As I said and got criticized for saying at the time, we’re gonna follow him to the gates of hell. Hell, we did–
STEPHANOPOULOS: How will history judge the United States’ experience in Afghanistan?
BIDEN: One that we overextended what we needed to do to deal with our national interest. That’s like my sayin’ they– they’re– they– they b– b– the border of Tajikistan– and– other– what– does it matter? Are we gonna go to war because of what’s goin’ on in Tajikistan? What do you think?
Tell me what– where in that isolated country that has never, never, never in all of history been united, all the way back to Alexander the Great, straight through the British Empire and the Russians, what is the idea? Are we gonna s– continue to lose thousands of Americans to injury and death to try to unite that country? What do you think? I think not.
I think the American people are with me. And when you unite that country, what do you have? They’re surrounded by Russia in the north or the Stans in the north. You have– to the west, they have Iran. To the south, they have Pakistan, who’s supporting them. And to the– and– actually, the east, they have Pakistan and China. Tell me. Tell me. Is that worth our national interest to continue to spend another $1 trillion and lose thousands more American lives? For what?
STEPHANOPOULOS: I know we’re outta time. I have two quick questions on COVID. I know you’re gonna make– be makin’ an announcement on booster shots today. Have you and the first lady gotten your booster shots yet?
BIDEN: We’re gonna get the booster shots. And– it’s somethin’ that I think– you know, because we g– w– we got our shots all the way back in I think December. So it’s– it’s– it’s past time. And so the idea (NOISE) that the recommendation– that’s my wife calling. (LAUGH) No. (LAUGH) But all kiddin’ aside, yes, we will get the booster shots.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And– and finally– are you comfortable with Americans getting a third shot when so many millions around the world haven’t had their first?
BIDEN: Absolutely because we’re providing more to the rest of the world than all the rest of the world combined. We got enough for everybody American, plus before this year is– before we get to the middle of next year, we’re gonna provide a half a billion shots to the rest of the world. We’re keepin’ our part of the bargain. We’re doin’ more than anybody.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. President, thanks for your time.
BIDEN: Thank you.