Aug 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

What Biden didn't know about Afghanistan

Picture of U.S troops

U.S. Marines assist with evacuations at Kabul airport yesterday. Photo: Lance Cpl. Nicholas Guevara/U.S. Marines via AP

The next time President Biden takes questions from reporters, he'll be asked what he didn't know and why he didn't know it.

Why it matters: Assurances Biden gave at a news conference on Friday about security around the Kabul airport were contradicted within minutes by network reporters on the ground — and later by his own administration.

  • Biden said "we have no indication" that American citizens are having trouble getting to the Kabul airport: "We’ve made an agreement with the Taliban. Thus far, they’ve allowed them to go through. It's in their interest for them to go through."
  • "So, we know of no circumstance where American citizens ... carrying an American passport are trying to get through to the airport. But we will do whatever needs to be done to see to it they get to the airport."

But ABC's Ian Pannell reported from Kabul, over audio of gunfire: "For several nights now, we've reported on the violence and terror outside Kabul airport, and Americans and Afghans who can't get through."

  • CNN's Clarissa Ward reported from the airport: "I mean, anyone who says that any American can get in here is, you know — yes, I mean, technically, it's possible, but it's extremely difficult and it is dangerous."
Picture of Biden and his cabinet
President Biden was flanked yesterday by (from left) Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Vice President Harris, Secretary of State Tony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
  • On a call Friday with lawmakers, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who appeared with Biden at the press conference, acknowledged that the Pentagon is "aware that some people, including Americans, have been harassed and even beaten by the Taliban," Politico reported.
  • "This is unacceptable and [we] made it clear to the designated Taliban leader," Austin added.

Today, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul told citizens not to go to the airport, with this Security Alert: "Because of potential security threats outside the gates at the Kabul airport, we are advising U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates at this time."

  • U.S. citizens who want to leave are told to fill out this form, then wait: "Do not call the U.S. Embassy in Kabul for details or updates about the flight. This form is the only way to communicate interest in flight options. We will contact registered U.S. citizens as the security situation changes to provide further instructions."

Reality check: Right after Biden spoke, CNN's Ward described "the enormity of this catastrophe that we're seeing play out."

  • "[T]he situation is desperate," she said. "It's chaotic. People are lying in the gravel, in the dirt for two days now, with little babies in the scorching sun and the cold of the evening."
  • "We saw Marines today handing out little wedges of cardboard, so that people could fan their babies."

At the news conference, Biden said al Qaeda is "gone" from Afghanistan.

  • CNN noted that after Biden's remarks, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters: "We know that al Qaeda is a presence, as well as ISIS, in Afghanistan, and we've talked about that for quite some time."
  • Al Qaeda fighters were among thousands of prisoners released Sunday by the Taliban from a prison at Bagram Air Base.

Go deeper: Biden commits to evacuating Americans, Afghan allies.

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