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Biden stumbles with Afghan questions, astoundingly claims all Americans can reach Kabul airport – New York Post

WASHINGTON — President Biden on Friday claimed that al-Qaeda is “gone” from Afghanistan and that the Taliban is letting Americans reach Kabul’s airport, before Pentagon leaders contradicted the commander in chief on both claims.

Biden stumbled repeatedly when taking his first questions from reporters on Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban — also claiming that US allies were not displeased by the chaotic US pullout, despite rare public rebukes.

“What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point with al Qaeda gone? We went to Afghanistan for the express purpose of getting rid of al Qaeda in Afghanistan,” Biden said in the White House East Room, defending the US departure.

Attempting to put a positive spin on ongoing evacuations, Biden said “we know of no circumstance where American citizens are carrying an American passport and are trying to get through to the airport.”

When an NPR reporter pointed out that was untrue, Biden changed his answer, saying that “to the best of our knowledge, the Taliban checkpoints, they are letting through people showing American passports” and that some Americans are struggling to reach the airport because of “the mad rush of non-Americans” crowding the area.

President Joe Biden responds to questions about the ongoing US military evacuations of US citizens and vulnerable Afghans in the White House on August 20, 2021.
President Joe Biden responds to questions about the ongoing US military evacuations of US citizens and vulnerable Afghans in the White House on August 20, 2021.AFP via Getty Images

But shortly after Biden spoke, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin briefed members of Congress on reports that Taliban troops had indeed been attacking US citizens in Kabul. Austin called the attacks “unacceptable,” two lawmakers confirmed to The Post.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at a briefing following Biden’s remarks that there remains an al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan and that the Pentagon is aware of Taliban fighters impeding transit to the airport.

“We’re certainly mindful of these reports and they’re deeply troubling and we have communicated to the Taliban that that is absolutely unacceptable and we want free passage through their checkpoints for documented Americans. And by and large, that’s happening,” Kirby said.

Kirby confirmed al Qaeda’s continued presence in Afghanistan. A recent United Nations report said that the terror network is present in at least 15 of 34 Afghan provinces.

President Joe Biden responds to questions about the ongoing US military evacuations of US citizens and vulnerable Afghans in the White House on August 20, 2021.
President Joe Biden responds to questions about the ongoing US military evacuations of US citizens and vulnerable Afghans in the White House on August 20, 2021.
AFP via Getty Images

“We know that al Qaeda is a presence as well as ISIS in Afghanistan and we’ve talked about that for quite some time. We do not believe it is exorbitantly high, but we don’t have an exact figure for you… our intelligence gathering ability in Afghanistan isn’t what it used to be because we aren’t there with the same numbers that we used to be,” Kirby said.

But Kirby added, “what we believe is that there isn’t a presence that is significant enough to merit a threat to our homeland as there was back on 9/11 20 years ago.”

Biden, speaking for only the second time about Afghanistan since the Taliban seized Kabul on Sunday, also said “I have seen no question of our credibility from our allies around the world.”

The US departure, however, was condemned harshly during a UK parliament session. Armin Laschet, the conservative candidate to succeed German Chancellor Angela Merkel, called it “the biggest debacle NATO has suffered since its founding.” 

Biden vaguely assured reporters that the US military would help Americans escape Afghanistan, even though US troops aren’t believed to be going into Kabul to escort citizens as troops from the UK and France are doing for their citizens.

Biden revealed that 169 Americans had been helped over the wall of the Kabul airport by US troops.

There are many press reports of Americans unable to reach the Kabul airport, however. One American, David Marshall Fox, told The Post on Thursday that he and his son unsuccessfully sought to enter the airport on Wednesday while presenting his US passport.

“For me to be 10 feet from US Marines with my 3-year-old son, with my US passport and not being able to get through — that’s problematic,” Fox said, adding that he had given up hope of being evacuated.

While taking reporter questions, Biden said that he believed expanding the US military perimeter at Kabul’s airport could “draw an awful lot of unintended consequences.”

About 5,200 American troops assist with the desperate airport evacuation ahead of Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline to remove US troops from Afghanistan.

“The only country in the world capable of projecting this much power on the far side of the world with this degree of precision is the United States of America,” Biden said.

“We’ve already evacuated more than 18,000 people since July and approximately 13,000 since our military airlift began on August 14. Thousands more have been evacuated on private charter flights facilitated by the US government. These numbers include American citizens and permanent residents as well as their families.”

On Thursday, Pentagon and State Department spokesmen admitted they didn’t know how many Americans still need to be evacuated from Afghanistan.

Biden said “we want to get a strong number as to exactly how many people are there, how many American citizens and where they are.”

The president spoke for less than 30 minutes and abruptly cut off questions and left the room.

Biden said “there will be plenty of time to criticize and second guess when this operation is over.”

Many top Biden administration officials have shied from public appearances this week amid the fall of Afghanistan. Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who both have been conspicuously quiet, stood behind Biden on Friday but did not speak.

Biden on Friday postponed a planned long weekend in Delaware as chaos continued in Kabul. His administration on Thursday abandoned plans to charge evacuees $2,000 or more for departure flights.

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