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Photo: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden said he saw no way to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan "without chaos ensuing" in an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that was previewed Wednesday evening.

Why it matters: Critics have slammed the Biden administration for failing to plan a measured and managed departure, which the Taliban used to their advantage. But in his first on-camera interview since the fall of Afghanistan, Biden defended the withdrawal, calling it "a simple choice."

What he's saying: Five weeks ago, Biden had assured Americans that the "likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely."

  • But on Wednesday, Biden told Stephanopoulos that "the idea that somehow, there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing — I don't know how that happens."
  • When asked if that was "priced" into Biden's decision, Biden answered in the affirmative before backtracking.
    • "Now exactly what happened, I've not priced in," he said. "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."
  • He reiterated that the Afghan government, whose U.S.-backed leader, Ashraf Ghani, fled on Sunday as the Taliban closed in on Kabul, was at fault for the country's collapse.
  • "It was a simple choice. If I said, 'we're gonna stay,' then we'd better be prepared to put a whole lot hell of a lot more troops in."

Worth noting: The president grew defensive when Stephanopoulos alluded to photos of hundreds of people crammed into a C-17.

  • "That was four days ago, five days ago!" Biden interrupted.
  • The photo was taken on Monday.

Catch up quick: Since Sunday, Afghans have fled their homes and pleaded with the world to open their borders. The U.S. is working to relocate allied Afghans and their families.

  • The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Wednesday that the U.S. military's intelligence did not indicate that Afghanistan would fall as quickly as it did to the Taliban.
  • Former Afghan President Ghani said he is in "talks to return to Afghanistan." He claims he left Kabul to prevent bloodshed.
  • Senate Democrats have vowed to investigate the U.S.'s "flawed" pullout of troops.

Go deeper

Nov 18, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Democratic senators grill Powell on plan for inflation

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell walks through the Hart Senate Office Building last month. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is facing questions in private meetings with Democratic senators this week about how he plans to counter soaring inflation, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: The Democrats' intense focus on inflation reveals their concern rising prices are becoming a political liability. It also shows they're looking to the next Federal Reserve chair to devise a strategy to defeat it. President Biden promised to announce his choice as early as Friday.

1 hour ago - World

Soldiers seize power in Burkina Faso as global coup surge continues

Mutinous soldiers in Burkina Faso declared on state television Monday that they had deposed the government, closed the borders, and taken control of the country. President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré has reportedly been arrested.

The big picture: This would be the third successful military coup in west Africa in eight months, after juntas took power last year in Guinea and in neighboring Mali.

3 hours ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to actually deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.