Pentagon fact-checks Biden after he said Al Qaeda NOT in Afghanistan
Pentagon and Defense Sec. contradict Biden MINUTES after his speech by saying Americans HAVE been beaten by the Taliban on the way to Kabul airport and al-Qaeda IS still present in Afghanistan
- Biden on Friday declared success in ridding Afghanistan of Al Qaeda
- And he said that Americans had not been prevented from reaching Kabul airport
- But both claims were immediately contradicted by the Department of Defense
- Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Al Qaeda remained present in the country
- And he said he was ‘troubled’ by news of Americans being beaten in Kabul
- The contradictions will put White House messaging operations under scrutiny
Minutes after President Biden on Friday said the mission to destroy Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was a success and that he knew of no circumstances where Americans had been unable to reach Kabul airport, he was flatly contradicted by the Pentagon.
Al Qaeda remains present in Afghanistan, said Department of Defense spokesman John Kirby during a briefing, and yes, he was aware of reports of Americans being beaten by the Taliban as they tried to reach safety.
The contradiction will raise further doubt about whether Biden is in control of the White House messaging operation, let alone the chaotic effort to bring Americans home.
He cancelled plans to return home to Wilmington on Friday evening as officials scrambled to give off an air of urgency.
He even answered questions about Afghanistan for the first time in 10 days after delivering a speech in the East Room of the White House.
Would he send troops out of their base in Hamid Karzai International Airport to help stranded Americans reach safety, he was asked.
‘We have no indication that they haven’t been able to get in Kabul through the airport,’ he said.
‘We’ve made an agreement with the Taliban thus far, they’ve allowed them to go through, it’s in their interest for them to through.’
President Biden said the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan with the purpose of ‘getting rid of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, as well as getting Osama bin Laden And we did.’
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said: ‘We know that al-Qaeda is a presence, as well as ISIS, in Afghanistan’
But a different view emerged in reports of a briefing call that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin held with lawmakers, telling them that Americans had been beaten as they tried to reach the airport.
And officials at the Pentagon confirmed they were aware of Americans reporting being attacked.
‘We’re certainly mindful of these reports and they’re deeply troubling and we have communicated to the Taliban that that’s absolutely unacceptable, that we want free passage through their checkpoints for documented Americans and – by and large – that’s happening,’ said Kirby.
The gaffe followed a difficult week for the White House. Biden has been under intense pressure for holing up at Camp David at the weekend and staying largely out of sight during the week.
An interview with ABC News, designed to regain the initiative, was widely panned.
And on Friday Biden’s comments about Al Qaeda, as he defended his decision to pull out U.S. troops, will also be seized on by fact checkers.
‘We went to Afghanistan for the express purpose of getting rid of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, as well as getting Osama bin Laden,’ he said. ‘And we did.’
Fast forward a few minutes and the Pentagon was saying something different.
‘We know that Al Qaeda is a presence, as well as ISIS, in Afghanistan,’ said Kirby
‘And we’ve talked about that for quite some time. We do not believe it is exorbitantly high.’
When pressed, he tried to close the gap between Biden’s comments and his, saying: ‘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.’
U.S. Marines provide security at a checkpoint as evacuation flights come and go from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul
Crowds continue to gather as they have done all week outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Americans say they have been unable to reach the airport because of Taliban checkpoints and patrols
British, Turkish and U.S. forces assist a child during evacuation efforts at Kabul International Airport on Friday. Crowds of people continue to gather as they try to flee the Taliban
However, terrorism experts have long said Al Qaeda continues to enjoy close relations with the Taliban.
Just this week, a Pentagon watchdog said the Taliban had been providing safe haven to the terrorist group all along.
A report by the Lead Inspector General for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel – the name of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan – said terrorist networks including ISIS had made the most of the Department of Defense’s drawdown.
‘Additionally, the Taliban continued to maintain its relationship with al Qaeda, providing safe haven for the terrorist group in Afghanistan,’ it said.
Osama bin Laden plotted the 9/11 terror attacks from Afghan soil, triggering the 2001 invasion by U.S. troops.
He was finally hunted down and killed by Navy Seals in neighboring Pakistan 10 years later.
Disrupting his network in Afghanistan has been a key part of the U.S. and NATO mission.
Here are the seven contentious moments from the president’s news conference:
Biden proclaims al-Qaeda is ‘gone’ in Afghanistan, in direct contradiction with the Pentagon’s assessment
‘What interest do we have in Afghanistan with al-Qaeda gone?’ Biden rhetorically asked the White House press corps.
That assertion stands in direct contradiction to a report from the Defense Department Inspector general on Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, covering April 1, 2021 to June 30, 2021.
‘The Taliban continued to maintain its relationship with al-Qaeda, providing safe haven for the terrorist group in Afghanistan,’ the report read.
A key provision of the US withdrawal under the Taliban peace deal was that the Taliban would not harbor terrorists, thus the report signals the US upheld its end of the deal even though the Taliban did not.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby, shortly after the president’s news conference, disputed his claim al-Qaeda had no presence in Afghanistan, but said: ‘there isn’t a presence significant enough to merit a threat to our homeland.’
‘We know that Al-Qaeda is a presence…in Afghanistan,’ Kirby said. ‘We don’t have an exact figure [of how many members].
On Monday, the day after the fall of Kabul, pro-al Qaeda social media accounts circulated an unsigned statement congratulating their Taliban ‘brothers’ on their stunning victory.
‘Afghanistan is Conquered and Islam has Won,’ read the message, translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Biden himself said in an ABC interview released Thursday that al-Qaeda could resurge in Afghanistan even sooner than original intelligence predictions of 18-24 months.
‘Could [al-Qaeda resurgence] be sooner?’ ABC News host George Stephanopoulos asked Biden. ‘It could be. But George, look, here’s the deal. Al Qaeda, ISIS, they metastasize,’ the president said, adding that al-Qaeda was a bigger threat in Syria and East Africa.
Biden says he has seen ‘no indication’ Americans have had a tough time getting to the airport, but American journalists on the ground say otherwise
‘We have no indication that [Americans] have not been able to get, in Kabul, through the airport. We have made an agreement with the Taliban. Thus far, they have allowed them to go through,’ Biden told reporters.
‘To the best of our knowledge, the Taliban checkpoints, they are letting through people showing American passports,’ Biden said.
Days ago the US State Department told Americans to get to the Kabul airport on their own to be evacuated. ‘THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT CANNOT ENSURE SAFE PASSAGE TO THE HAMID KARZAI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT,’ they wrote in a memo.
State Department spokesman Ned Price in a subsequent news conference conceded that Americans were having a difficult time getting to the airport.
‘It remains to be the case that many Afghans and many American citizens have not been able to get through,’ a reporter noted. ‘I don’t think anyone is denying the reports,’ Price said.
‘We had difficulty getting into the airport. Working out how to get to the airport is like a Rubik’s cube,’ CNN’s Clarissa Ward, reporting from Kabul, said. ‘I can’t get into the details of how we did get in but it’s very difficult … and it’s dangerous.’
‘The president said he has no intelligence that the Americans have not been able to get [to the Kabul airport]. The question, obviously—does that square with reporting on ground?’ ABC’s David Muir asked foreign correspondent Ian Pannell.
‘I mean – totally not,’ Pannell responded. ‘It just seems the reality and the rhetoric are miles apart. I’m not quite sure what advice the president is receiving but the truth on the ground is these people in fear of their lives can’t get through.’
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a briefing call with House lawmakers that Americans had been beaten by Taliban, which he called ‘unacceptable.’
Following Biden’s speech, Fox News national security reporter Jennifer Griffin blasted Biden for living in an ‘alternate reality.’
‘I’m having a hard time digesting what we heard because I couldn’t fact-check it fast enough in real-time because there were so many misrepresentations of what is happening on the ground,’ she said, adding that it was ‘an alternate reality presented by the White House.’
‘The first part of your question was — I can’t remember now.’
‘This is about America leading the world, and all our allies have agreed to that. And by the way, before I made this decision, I was at the G7, as well as met with our NATO partners, and I told them all, every one of them knew and agreed with the decision I made, to jointly end our involvement in Afghanistan. The first part of your question was — I can’t remember now,’ the president told a reporter.
‘Would you make the same commitment to bring out Afghans who assisted in the war effort?’
‘Yes, yes, we’re making the same commitment,’ the president said, adding that evacuating special immigrant visa recipients was ‘equally important, almost,’ as evacuating American citizens.
‘I have seen no question of our credibility from our allies around the world,’ Biden said, but British MPs tore into the president’s Afghanistan pullout on Wednesday
Tom Tugendhat, veteran and Tory chairman of the foreign affairs committee, called Biden’s criticisms of Afghan soldiers ‘shameful.’
‘To see their commander in chief call into question the courage of men I fought with, to claim that they ran, is shameful,’ he said this week.
Khalid Mahmood, a Labour MP and former defence minister, said, according to The Telegraph: ‘The Biden government have just come in and, without looking at what is happening on the ground, have taken a unilateral decision, throwing us and everybody else to the fire.’
Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: ‘The American decision to withdraw was not just a mistake – it was an avoidable mistake, from President Trump’s flawed to President Biden’s decision to proceed, and to proceed in such a disastrous way.’
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson blamed the US and said that Biden’s decision had forced his hand to end British involvement in Afghanistan.
‘The West could not continue this US-led mission – a mission conceived and executed in support and defense of America – without American logistics, without US air power and without American might,’ he said.
Biden flubs Doha, Qatar, calling it ‘Daho’
Asked about assurances of security for people making to the airport, Biden responded: ‘We’ve been in constant contact with the Taliban leadership on the ground in Kabul, as well as the Taliban leadership in Daho’ – accidentally transposing the letters in the capital of Qatar.
‘And we’ve been coordinating what we’re doing,’ he added.
He did not immediately correct himself, but he later referred to the location correctly when defending the way the evacuation was handled. ‘The point was that although we were in contact with the Taliban and Doha for this whole period of time,’ there wasn’t expected to be a ‘total demise’ of the Afghan military, Biden said.
Biden, asked why his administration ignored a cable warning of the swift fall of Kabul, responds: ‘We got all kinds of cables’
‘We learned over the last 24 hours that there was a dissent cable from the State Department saying that the Taliban would come faster… Can you say why after that cable was issued, the U.S. didn’t do more?’ a reporter asked the president.
‘We got all kinds of cables, we got all kinds of advice,’ Biden said.
‘I took the consensus opinion the consensus was in fact it would not occur if it occurred until later in the year.’
On Friday the Wall Street Journal reported that State Department officials in Kabul had warned the Biden administration that the Afghan capital would fall.
A dozen diplomats sent a confidential memo in a dissent channel to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on July 13 that the Taliban was rapidly gaining ground and the city was vulnerable to collapse.
On July 8, President Biden said it was ‘highly unlikely’ the Taliban would take control of Afghanistan and denied there would be chaos in Kabul.
But then on Wednesday this week, Biden said there was ‘no way’ to leave Afghanistan without chaos ensuing.
Afghan security forces were collapsing, the diplomats said in the memo, and offered ways to mitigate the advancing insurgents.
But it may have been too late to stop them.
The State Department memo, according to the report, also called for the government to use tougher language on the violence in the past from the Taliban and urged them to start collecting information for Afghan allies who qualified for Special Immigrant Visas after working with US forces.
The Journal reported that 23 Embassy staffers signed the cable and rushed to deliver it considering the deteriorating situation in Kabul.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken reviewed the cable, a personal familiar with it told the paper.
Biden signals he’ll work with the Taliban after his administration said they would pressure the international community not to recognize a Taliban government
‘There’s going to be harsh, strong conditions we’re going to apply, and it will depend on whether they get help based on whether or not how and well they treat women and girls and how they treat their citizens,’ Biden said.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US’ chief negotiator with the Taliban, traveled to Doha less than two weeks ago to inform the Taliban the US and its allies would not recognize its government if it came to power through force.
A Taliban spokesman said this week: ‘We are guaranteeing all their rights within the limits of Islam.’
Another Taliban spokesman vouched that women would be happy, if they followed Sharia law: ‘If they continue to live according to Sharia, we will be happy, they will be happy.’
Biden admits his administration still doesn’t know how many Americans are in Afghanistan
The government is working ‘to verify the number of Americans still in country as we work on this,’ the president said.
‘We moved out 5,700 evacuees yesterday, and we’re working on a variety — to verify that number of the Americans that are still in the country as we work on this because we’re not — don’t have the exact number of people who are — Americans who are there,’ Biden said. ‘And those who may have come home to the United States, we’re not — we want to get a strong number as to exactly how many people are there, how many American citizens, and where they are.
In his Wednesday interview with ABC News, Biden said there were between 10,000 and 15,000 Americans still in Afghanistan.
An administration official said Thursday that 13,000 people had been evacuated on US military aircraft since August 14.
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