White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Monday defended the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan despite how rapidly conditions deteriorated in the country, leading to the Taliban’s takeover, adding that Biden “stands by” his decision.
The Taliban swept into Kabul on Sunday after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, bringing an end to a two-decade campaign in which the U.S. and its allies had tried to transform Afghanistan.
On ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday, Sullivan pushed back on assertions that President Joe Biden believed the Taliban’s takeover inevitable and blamed Afghan security forces who, he said, “decided not to step up and fight for their country.”
“We spent 20 years, tens of billions of dollars training them, giving them equipment, giving them support of U.S. forces for 20 years, and when push came to shove, they decided not to step up and fight for their country,” Sullivan said.
“The question facing the president back in April, and again as we’ve gone forward, is should U.S. men and women be put into the middle of another country’s civil war when their own army won’t fight to defend them?” Sullivan continued. “And his answer to that question was no.”
Sullivan said “it’s heartbreaking” to see what’s happening in Kabul but that Biden “stands by” his decision.
“President Biden was not prepared to usher in a third decade of war and put US troops in harms way fighting and dying to try to hold Afghanistan together when its own armed forces would not fight to hold it together,” Sullivan told CBS News on Monday. “This is about hard choices.”
On NBC’s “TODAY,” Sullivan applauded the “skill and professionalism” of the U.S. military for their completion of the drawdown of personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
“All U.S. diplomats and civilian personnel have been removed from that facility and we’re down to a very small civilian presence at the airport,” Sullivan said, adding that efforts are underway to “ensure that we get out remaining American citizens as well as Afghans at risk.”
“We are in the process of trying to fully secure the airport and execute that set of evacuation flights, which will proceed over the coming days,” Sullivan continued.
“We believe that we can effectuate an ongoing evacuation of American citizens, of Afghans who worked for us, including interpreters and translators and others vulnerable Afghans at risk,” Sullivan said of evacuations. “We’re working to do that by securing the airport today and in the days ahead by taking people out one flight at a time, flight after flight.”
The Kabul airport has been the sight of a chaotic scene as thousands of people packed the airfield on Monday, rushing the tarmac and pushing onto planes in desperate attempts to flee the country after the Taliban overthrew the government.
CNN reported that the U.S. military temporarily suspended operations at the airport in order to clear the airfield of Afghans who flooded the tarmac, per an official. Videos on social media showed hundreds of people running across the tarmac as U.S. soldiers fired warning shots in the air. One video showed hundreds of people alongside a U.S. Air Force transport plane as it moved down a runway, with people even climbing on the jet just before takeoff
Biden’s team was “stunned,” The Associated Press reported, by the pace in which the Taliban were able to completely take over Afghanistan. Secretary of State Antony Blinken admitted similarly in interviews on Sunday.
In July, President Biden that “the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely,” dismissing comparisons to the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975.
Sullivan acknowledged that the situation “unfolded at unexpected speed,” but noted that the Biden Administration was able to quickly mobilize more troops to Kabul to aid with evacuation as a “contingency plan.”
“It is certainly the case that the speed with which cities fell was much greater than anyone anticipated, including the Afghans, including many of the analysis who looked hard at this problem” Sullivan said on NBC’s “Today” Monday.
“Part of the reason for that … is because at the end of the day, despite the fact that we spent 20 years and tens of billions of dollars to give the best equipment, the best training and the best capacity to the Afghan national security forces, we could not give them the will and they ultimately decided that they would not fight for Kabul, and they would not fight for the country,” Sullivan continued, adding: “And that opened the door to the Taliban … to come into Kabul very rapidly.”
Sullivan said on “GMA” that Americans will hear from Biden “soon” on Afghanistan but did not give a specific date, noting he is “singularly” focused on evacuations: “At the right point he will absolutely address the American people.”
“He’s right now actively engaged with his national security team,” Sullivan said of Biden. “He is working the situation hard.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.