The rapid US withdrawal from Afghanistan that has left the gate open for the Taliban to surge to power may come as a surprise to some, but President Joe Biden has been in favor of pulling out for years.
In 2010, Biden reportedly told Richard Holbrooke, then Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, that the US had to leave Afghanistan regardless of the cost for the Afghan people.
According to Holbrooke, when Biden was asked about America’s obligation to maintain their presence in Afghanistan to protect vulnerable civilians, he scornfully replied by referencing the US exit from southeast Asia in 1973.
‘F*** that, we don’t have to worry about that. We did it in Vietnam, Nixon and Kissinger got away with it.’
Biden has defended his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, despite harsh criticism over the botched execution and claims that he ignored intelligence community warnings that Kabul could quickly fall to the Taliban.
On Tuesday the US resumed evacuation flights from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul after reestablishing a semblance of order, following fatal chaos there a day earlier.
Overnight at the airport, nine Air Force C-17 transport planes arrived with equipment and about 1,000 troops, and seven C-17s took off with 700 to 800 civilian evacuees, including 165 Americans, the Pentagon said.
The Taliban has told the United States it will provide safe passage for civilians to reach the airport, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday.
Biden’s desire to pull out of Afghanistan has long been known, as he was one of the foremost advocates for withdrawal during his tenure as Vice President during the Obama administration
According to Holbrooke’s diary which was turned over to his biographer after his death, Biden was staunchly in favor of pulling out of Afghanistan even 11 years ago (Pictured: Holbooke with former Afghan president Hamid Karzai in 2009)
Taliban fighters patrol along a street in Kabul on Tuesday in a US-issued APC, as the Taliban moved to quickly restart the Afghan capital and told government staff to return to work following their stunning takeover of Kabul
Biden’s remarks to Holbrooke were revealed in his diary, much of which was turned over to his official biographer George Packer following his death.
Holbrooke was appointed as a special advisor on Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2009 and was one of the Obama administration’s principle advisors on US policy in the countries until his death in December of 2010.
According to his diary, Biden made his ruthless comparison between pulling out of Afghanistan and the withdrawal of US troops from southeast Asia just months before Holbrooke’s died.
The diary painted Biden as one of the most vocal critics of the war in Afghanistan and a skeptic of America’s commitment to the Afghan people.
US defense officials in charge of evacuating Americans from Kabul claimed on Tuesday morning they would fly 5,000 a day out despite only managing to rescue 1,400 in the three days since the city fell, while as many as 40,000 U.S. citizens may remain stranded – some in remote parts of the country.
The Taliban has encircled the Kabul airport and controls all access points, many of them armed with weapons and Humvees paid for by the U.S. but abandoned by the capitulating Afghan army.
At a White House briefing on Tuesday afternoon, Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan confirmed US forces were ‘in contact’ with the Taliban negotiating how to get Americans, Afghan refugees and other foreign nationals in safely and onto planes.
‘The Taliban have informed us that they are prepared to provide the safe passage of civilians to the airport, and we intend to hold them to that commitment,’ Sullivan said.
The airport sits in the north of the city which is now entirely controlled by the Taliban and which is now deciding who can get in and out of it
US National Security advisor Jake Sullivan answers questions during the daily press briefing on the situation in Afghanistan at the White House in Washington, DC on Tuesday
Taliban fighters are now controlling the entry to the airport and have seized all of the access points leading to it in Kabul. It forces NATO troops to rely on them to allow evacuees into the airport to board flights
Afghan security guards stand on a wall as hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul on Tuesday. The Taliban declared an ‘amnesty’ across Afghanistan and claimed civilians would be allowed safe passage to the airport
Hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday
Refugees cram inside a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III flown from Kabul to Qatar on Sunday. The plane safely evacuated some 640 Afghans from Kabul late Sunday
Nevertheless, the situation remains desperate for Afghan nationals who helped the US occupation and seek to flee, and who now must present themselves to the Taliban outside the airport
Commanders at the airport are in direct contact with with Taliban commanders outside the airport, and so far there have been no exchanges of fire.
‘There is communication between them and us,’ Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said. ‘And I would just let the results speak for themselves: … There’s been no hostile interactions from the Taliban to our operations at the airport.’
It remains less clear whether the Taliban will continue to cooperate if the evacuation effort stretches past August 31, which is Biden’s deadline for ending the US presence in Afghanistan.
‘We believe that this can go till the 31st,’ Sullivan said. ‘We are talking to them about what the exact timetable is for how this will all play out, and I don’t want to negotiate in public on working out the best modality to get the most people out in the most efficient way.’
The State Department has been deliberately vague on the number of Americans who remain in Afghanistan and who they are.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday morning that between 5,000 and 10,000 are in Kabul, but earlier admitted he had no idea how many there were or where they were. George W. Bush’s former Assistant Secretary of State, Robert Charles, says there are between 15,000 and 40,000 ‘scattered’ across all of Afghanistan.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that there were at least 11,000, including American journalists, translators, contractors, aid workers, NGO and government workers.
All of them have to get on flights from Kabul airport where the situation on Tuesday was remarkably calmer than on Monday, when eight Afghans died trying to escape.
Three were crushed by the wheels of a US jet as it took off, three fell from that jet as it ascended after stowing away in the hopes of being carried out safely, and two were shot by US troops after storming the airfield armed. The troops resorted to using Apache helicopters and firing warning shots to disperse crowds of thousands of frenzied Afghans on the airfield.
The Taliban claimed on Tuesday that Afghan women will not be persecuted under their Islamic rule during their first press conference since their sweeping conquest of Kabul this week, as the man tipped to be Afghanistan’s next leader arrived in the country after a 20-year exile.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman, claimed ‘there is a huge difference between us and the Taliban of 20 years ago’, when female Afghans were beaten in the street or publicly executed, denied work, healthcare and an education, and barred from leaving home without a male chaperone.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid answers press members questions as he holds a press conference in Kabul Tuesday
Taliban officials arrange a Taliban flag, before a press conference by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, at the Government Media Information Center, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021
Members of Taliban forces sit at a checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday following their takeover of the city
Members of Taliban forces sit at a security tower of the interior ministry in Kabul, Afghanistan August 17, 2021
During their press conference in the capital city, the Taliban insisted girls will receive an education and women will be allowed to study at university – both of which were forbidden under Taliban rule in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001 before the US-led invasion.
The militant group also claimed they want women to be part of the new government after female Afghans staged a protest outside a local Taliban HQ in Khair Khana district, a suburb of north-west Kabul, while chanting ‘honour and lives are safe’ and ‘join voices with us’.
However, women and girls remain the most at risk under the new regime, with gangs in conquered areas allegedly hunting children as young as 12 and unmarried or widowed women they regard as spoils of war – ‘qhanimat’ – being forced into marriage or sex slavery.
The Taliban has also said women will have to wear hijabs but not burkas. During the press conference on Tuesday, Mujahid did not detail what restrictions would be imposed on women, although he did say it would be a government with ‘strong Islamic values’.
Mujahid claimed: ‘We are committed to the rights of women under the system of Sharia. They are going to be working shoulder to shoulder with us. We would like to assure the international community that there will be no discrimination.’
The Taliban denied it was enforcing sex slavery, and claims that such actions are against Islam. During the 1990s, the regime established religious police for the suppression of ‘vice’, and courts handed out extreme punishments including stoning to death women accused of adultery.
Just minutes before the hour-long press conference, it was confirmed that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s deputy leader and co-founder, had arrived back in Kandahar from Qatar, with what was described as a high-level delegation.
‘We are going to decide what kind of laws will be presented to the nation. This will be the responsibility of the government with the participation of all people,’ Mujahid claimed.
BRITAIN: British soldiers evacuating foreign nationals and dual nationals on military jets in Kabul on Tuesday. There was no sign of any American plane
INDIA: Indian nationals were rescued from the airport on Tuesday on one military jet. The Indian military is also using C-17 planes
SPAIN: A Spanish Air Force A400M jet on Tuesday, August 17, waiting to evacuate foreign nationals and refugees
FRANCE: French soldiers at Kabul Airport in the early hours of Tuesday August 17 waiting to evacuate people
In his presidential address on Monday, President Biden staunchly defended his decision to bring home US troops before blaming Afghan leaders for their failure to prevent the country collapsing.
‘I am president of the United States of America,’ he said. ‘And the buck stops with me.
‘The truth is – this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated. So what’s happened? Afghanistan’s political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.
Biden continued: ‘So I’m left again to ask of those who argue that we should stay: How many more generations of America’s daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghanistan’s civil war, when Afghan troops will not?
‘I’m clear in my answer: I will not repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past. The mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely in a conflict that is not in the national interest of the United States.’
Only last month, Biden had shrugged off concerns that the Taliban were poised to return to power, saying the Afghan military had the advantage in men and arms
‘The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely,’ he said.
The past week has proved him wrong and plunged his presidency into crisis.