Biden team surprised by Taliban quick wins in Afghanistan – .

Biden team surprised by Taliban quick wins in Afghanistan – .

WASHINGTON – US President Joe Biden and other senior US officials were stunned on Sunday by the pace of the Taliban’s almost complete takeover of Afghanistan, as the planned withdrawal of US forces urgently became a mission to ensure safe evacuation.

The speed of the collapse of the Afghan government and the chaos that followed was Biden’s most serious test as commander-in-chief, and he was the subject of fierce criticism from Republicans who said he was ‘he had failed.

Biden campaigned as a seasoned expert on international relations and spent months downplaying the prospect of Taliban ascendancy while claiming that Americans of all political persuasions are tired of a 20-year war, conflict who demonstrated the limits of money and military might to force Western-style democracy on a society that is not ready or willing to embrace it.

On Sunday, however, leading figures in the administration admitted that they were caught off guard by the lightning speed of the collapse of the Afghan security forces. The challenge of this effort became evident after reports of sporadic gunfire at Kabul airport prompted Americans to take cover while waiting for flights to find safety.

“We saw that this force was unable to defend the country, and it happened faster than expected,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN, referring to the Afghan army.

The unrest in Afghanistan puts an unwelcome focus back on a president who has largely focused on a national agenda that includes ending the pandemic, securing congressional approval for billions of dollars in spending infrastructure and the protection of voting rights.

Biden remained at Camp David on Sunday, receiving regular briefings on Afghanistan and setting up secure video conferences with members of his national security team, according to senior White House officials. The next few days could be critical in determining whether the United States is able to regain some level of control over the situation.

Discussions were underway for Biden to speak publicly, according to two senior administration officials who requested anonymity to discuss the internal conversations. Biden, who is due to stay at Camp David until Wednesday, is expected to return to the White House if he decides to give a speech.

Biden is the fourth US president to face challenges in Afghanistan and has insisted he will not hand the United States’ longest war over to his successor. But the president will likely have to explain how security in Afghanistan collapsed so quickly, especially since he and other members of the administration insisted it wouldn’t happen.

“The jury is still out, but the Taliban is highly unlikely to invade everything and own the whole country,” Biden said on July 8.

As recently as last week, Biden publicly expressed hope that Afghan forces could develop the will to defend their country. But privately, administration officials have warned the military is collapsing, prompting Biden on Thursday to order thousands of U.S. troops into the area to speed up evacuation plans.

An official said Biden was more optimistic about projections that Afghan fighters would have to push back the Taliban in part to prevent further erosion of morale among their forces. It was ultimately for nothing.

Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump also aspired to leave Afghanistan, but ultimately withdrew amid resistance from military leaders and other political concerns. Biden, on the other hand, has been steadfast in his refusal to change the August 31 deadline, in part because of his belief that the American public is on his side.

An ABC News / Ipsos poll in late July, for example, showed that 55% of Americans approved of Biden’s handling of the troop withdrawal.

Most Republicans did not push Biden to keep troops in Afghanistan for the long term, and they also supported Trump’s own push to leave the country. Still, some GOP members are stepping up criticism of Biden’s exit strategy and said Sunday footage of US helicopters circling the US embassy in Kabul evoked the humiliating departure of US personnel from Vietnam.

Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell called the withdrawal scenes “the embarrassment of a calving superpower.”

Meanwhile, US officials are increasingly concerned about the potential for increased terrorist threats against the United States as the situation in Afghanistan evolves, according to a person familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to discuss. of a sensitive security issue.

General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators in a conference call Sunday that U.S. officials should change their previous assessments on the pace of the rebuilding of terrorist groups in Afghanistan, the U.S. said. no one. Based on developments, officials believe terrorist groups like al-Qaida could grow much faster than expected.

Appeal officials told senators that the U.S. intelligence community is currently working to form a new timeline based on evolving threats.

Still, no further steps were planned beyond the deployment of troops Biden ordered to help with the evacuations. Senior administration officials believe the United States will be able to maintain security at Kabul airport long enough to extricate Americans and their allies, but the fate of those who could not make it at the airport was far from certain.

Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn., A member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which has supported the Biden administration’s strategy, said in an interview that “the speed is a surprise” but would not characterize the situation as a intelligence failure. He said it has long been known that Afghanistan will fall into Taliban hands if the United States withdraws.

“Considering how much we’ve invested in the Afghan military, it’s not ridiculous for analysts to believe they could fight for more than a few days,” Murphy said. “You want to believe that billions of dollars and 20 years of investment is something, even if it does not represent the ability to defend the country for the long term. “

In the upper ranks of Biden’s staff, the rapid collapse in Afghanistan only confirmed the decision to leave: If the collapse of Afghan forces came so quickly after nearly two decades of U.S. presence, six months or a year or two or more not having changed anything.

Biden has argued for over a decade that Afghanistan is a sort of purgatory for the United States. He found him corrupt, addicted to America’s largesse, and an unreliable partner who should be forced to fend for himself. Its purpose was to protect Americans from terrorist attacks, not to build a country.

As vice president, he privately argued against the influx of 30,000 Obama troops into Afghanistan in an attempt to stabilize the country so that the United States and its allies could then withdraw their forces.

As president, Biden said in July he made the decision to step down “with clear eyes” after receiving daily updates on the battlefield. His judgment was that Afghanistan would be divided in a peace deal with the Taliban, rather than fall all at once.

As Biden prided himself on delivering clear truths to the American public, his optimistic assessment of the situation just a month ago may come back to haunt him.

“There will be no circumstance where you will see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy in the United States from Afghanistan,” he said in July. “The likelihood of there being a unified government in Afghanistan controlling the entire country is highly unlikely. “

Associated Press editors Michael Balsamo and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.


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