Updated Aug 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Sources: No Biden firings

President Biden is seen pausing to answer a reporter's question after making remarks about Afghanistan on Sunday.
Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden isn't inclined to fire any senior national security officials over the chaos in Kabul unless the situation drastically deteriorates or there's significant loss of American life, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Dismissing national security advisor Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin or CIA Director William Burns would be tantamount to admitting a mistake, and the president stands by his decision.

  • While acknowledging the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan has been “messy” and the Taliban captured the country quicker than he anticipated, Biden is deeply committed to his policy, the people tell Axios.
  • "I think that history is going to record this was the logical, rational, right decision to make," Biden said Sunday afternoon at the White House.
  • "Let me be clear: The evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul was going to be hard and painful no matter when it started, when we began. It would have been true if we had started a month ago — or a month from now. There's no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss of heartbreaking images you see on television. It's just a fact."

Between the lines: Over 40 years in Washington, Biden has a reputation of being hard and demanding on his staff but also loyal. He raises his voice yet rarely fires anyone.

  • Longtime advisers are doubtful any heads will roll but caution the dynamic could change if any Americans are killed by the Taliban or other radical Islamic groups.
  • Right now, the focus is on the mission at hand, leaving little time for political machinations or recriminations.
  • In a statement Sunday, the White House said Biden and his team had "discussed the ongoing and intensive diplomatic and military efforts to facilitate transit at third-country transit hubs, affirming the importance of the contributions that more than two dozen partner nations are making to this global effort."

The big picture: While scenes of desperation and despair continue outside Kabul's airport, the world has little visibility into what's happening in the rest of the country. There've been sporadic reports of Taliban reprisals against Afghans who aided the NATO coalition during the past 20 years.

  • The White House wants the focus to be on the successful air transport out of Kabul and has been giving regular updates on the evacuation. A pool report released Sunday said some 25,100 personnel have departed on military and coalition aircraft since Aug. 14.
  • The U.S. has rescued more than 100 Americans who couldn't get to the airport, with potential additional military operations planned for outside the wire, according to internal U.S. government documents reviewed by Axios.
  • At the airport gates, a handful of Afghans have presented U.S. passports that don’t belong to them, highlighting the challenge of the broader screening effort.

Go deeper: At senior levels of Biden’s White House, officials still blame President Trump for the peace deal he cut with the Taliban and privately insist the "cupboard was bare" for any plan to evacuate Americans.

  • The president’s first instinct was to publicly fault Trump and then Afghan forces for not fighting for their country, and he called out President Ashraf Ghani by name for fleeing the country.
  • But Biden must contend with stunning footage of babies being handed over barbed wire and Afghans falling from the sky after clinging to departing planes.
  • There's also the terrifying prospect of a terrorist attack by ISIS-K targeting Americans outside of the airport walls, or the crowds of Afghans trying to get in.

Driving the news: Lawmakers from both parties are already demanding answers, with some Republicans calling for Sullivan to be sacked.

  • Some House Democrats also are considering calling for Sullivan's removal, according to the New York Times.
  • House lawmakers, who return this week, will receive a briefing Monday.
  • Some GOP senators have branded the situation in Afghanistan worse than Benghazi, the diplomatic attack they used to investigate and castigate President Obama.
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