President Biden last Thursday gave the order to send U.S. troops into Afghanistan as it became clear that the Taliban were overrunning Afghan government forces on their way to taking Kabul.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Tuesday that as administration officials watched the situation unfold, the decision was made to supplement the first contingent of some 3,000 troops with some 3,000 more. Sullivan’s briefing was the first from the White House since Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, fell to the Taliban on Sunday.
Though critics have charged that the president was cloistered in Camp David as the situation in Afghanistan quickly deteriorated, Sullivan said Biden “has been deeply engaged in this.” Biden returned briefly to the White House Monday to address the nation about the situation in Afghanistan and plans to leave Camp David again for Washington, D.C., on Tuesday evening.
Sullivan said the president met with his national security team last Wednesday night, when Biden posed the question “as to whether we had to flow more forces in” as well as to draw down personnel at the U.S. embassy in Kabul and secure the evacuation; Biden ordered the action the following morning.
Military cargo planes will leave Afghanistan holding 300 passengers each
Sullivan said that while some early evacuation flights have left Kabul with empty seats, he characterized it as a “through-put issue” and that “we will be putting 300 passengers on your average military cargo plane” in subsequent flights.
He said there have been reports of some people being turned away from the Kabul airport and that the U.S. has taken that up in talks with the Taliban officials. He said that people have been getting through the airport gate and placed on planes but that it’s “an hour by hour issue.”
Meanwhile, the Air Force is looking into an incident Monday at the Kabul airport that resulted in the death of multiple Afghan civilians, according to the AP. Hundreds of civilians, desperate to leave the country, surrounded a C-17 cargo plane that was taxiing after landing. It then quickly took off again. Videos on social media showed people falling off the plane as it gained altitude.
Biden faced a choice over the Blackhawk military helicopters
Sullivan said the capture of U.S.-made Blackhawk military helicopters by the Taliban was an example of the difficult choices Biden faced “in the context of the end of a 20-year war.” Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani requested additional air capability for Afghan forces at a White House meeting with Biden June 25th.
Sullivan said Biden had a choice to make. “He could not give it to them [with] the risk that it could fall into the Taliban’s hands eventually. Or he could give it to them with the hope that they could deploy it in service of defending their country.”
Sullivan said both options had risks. “He had to choose,” Sullivan said of Biden, “and he made a choice.” And Biden, he said, made the right decision.
Sullivan also acknowledged that other U.S.-supplied weaponry was also now in the Taliban’s control.
“We don’t have a complete picture, obviously, of where every article of defense materials has gone, but certainly a fair amount of it has fallen into the hands of the Taliban,” he said, adding “we don’t have a sense that they are going to readily hand it over to us at the airport.”
Sullivan did not directly respond to a question as to whether the U.S. considered the Taliban the legitimate governing power in Afghanistan. “Right now, there is a chaotic situation in Kabul where we don’t even have the establishment of a governing authority,” he said. Ultimately, Sullivan said, “it’s going to be up to the Taliban to show the rest of the world who they are and how they intend to proceed. The track record has not been good,” he said.
Under repeated questioning, Sullivan refused to guarantee that all Americans who wish to leave Afghanistan will be able to do so by the August 31st deadline the administration has set for ending the evacuation mission.
The administration is planning a “hot wash” review of what happened
Sullivan said that at some point in the future the administration will conduct a so-called “hot wash” review of what happened. It won’t be a “what went wrong review.”
“We’ll look at everything that happened in this entire operation from start to finish, and the areas of improvement, where we could do better,” he said. He pledged to make the results public, but that for now he said officials are focused on the mission at hand of “getting these people out.”
Sullivan said the U.S. does not have a complete picture of what other material the Taliban has, but said “we don’t have a sense that they are going to readily hand it over to us at the airport.”
Sullivan did not directly respond to a question as to whether the U.S. considered the Taliban the legitimate governing power in Afghanistan.
“Right now, there is a chaotic situation in Kabul where we don’t even have the establishment of a governing authority,” he said. Ultimately, Sullivan said, “it’s going to be up to the Taliban to show the rest of the world who they are and how they intend to proceed. The track record has not been good.”