President Joe Biden’s remarks Friday on the evacuation process in Afghanistan missed the mark, with critics pointing out that his statements contradicted the reality witnessed on the ground.
Fox News national security correspondent Jen Griffin declared she “couldn’t fact check it fast enough in real time because there were so many misrepresentations of what is happening on the ground.” ABC News’ senior foreign correspondent Ian Pannell, speaking live from Afghanistan, echoed Griffin’s shock, calling Biden’s speech “breathtaking” and noting “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 that these people who are in fear of their lives can’t get through,” Pannell said.
.@DavidMuir: “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?”@IanPannell: “I mean—just totally not.”
— ABC News (@ABC) August 20, 2021
Many critics highlighted Biden’s repeated claims that Americans can easily get to the airport in Kabul. Biden said the administration has “no indication that they haven’t been able to” get to the airport, pointing out the agreement made with the Taliban to provide safe passage for those with American passports.
“We have no indication that they haven’t been able to get in Kabul through the airport,” Biden said. “We’ve made an agreement with the Taliban thus far, they’ve allowed them to go through, it is in their interest for them to go through so we know of no circumstance where American citizens – carrying an American passport – are trying to through to the airport. But we will do whatever needs to be done to see that they get to the airport.”
The president later appeared to backtrack slightly when pressed on the fact that his comments don’t add up to the reality on the ground. One reporter asked if he was “saying equivocally that any American is getting there and past the security barrier and to the planes.”
“No, I thought the question was how could they get through to the airport outside of the airport,” Biden said. “And the answer is, to the best of our knowledge, that the Taliban checkpoints, – they are letting through, people showing American passports.”
“Now, that is a different question when they get into the rush and crowd of all of the folks just outside of the wall near there. That is why we had to — I guess was it yesterday or the day before, we went over the wall and brought … 169 Americans,” Biden continued, adding that it’s a “process” to figure out how to get Americans into the airport.
CNN’s chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward, speaking to the network from the Kabul airport, detailed her difficult experience in getting there. She said, “technically, it’s possible, but it’s extremely difficult and it is dangerous.” Earlier, Ward warned Americans on the ground of the dangers they faced attempting to get to the airport.
“Every gate has dozens if not hundreds of people waiting outside for their one window of opportunity,” Ward explained. “And by the way, they’ve already had to beat their way past the Taliban checkpoints, through fighters with whips and guns, even to get to that stage. Then once you get there, you begin the long journey. I’ve been talking to people on the ground here who have been in this airport now, this compound, for two full days.”
“We had difficulty getting into the airport,” she continued. “It’s like a Rubik’s cube. I won’t share the details of how we did get in, but it’s very difficult. It’s very difficult. It’s not a simple process at all.”
Moments after Biden’s speech, Politico congressional reporter Andrew Desiderio tweeted, citing multiple people on the call, that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had just briefed House lawmakers about Americans being beaten by the Taliban in Kabul.
“This statement alone from Austin contradicts a lot of what Biden just said at the White House about Americans not having a hard time getting to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul,” Desiderio tweeted.
This statement alone from Austin contradicts a lot of what Biden just said at the White House about Americans not having a hard time getting to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
— Andrew Desiderio (@AndrewDesiderio) August 20, 2021
Biden, in his speech Friday, also claimed he’d seen no criticism from allied nations regarding the withdrawal, despite criticism coming just days ago from British Members of Parliament (MPs).
“The fact of the matter is, I have not seen that. The matter of fact is, I’ve gotten the exact opposite,” Biden claimed.
“I have seen no question of our credibility from our allies around the world. I’ve spoken with our NATO allies. We’ve spoken with NATO allies, the secretary of state, our national security adviser has been in contact with his counterparts throughout the world and our allies, as has the general —or, excuse me, I keep calling him a general — but my secretary of defense,” he said.
Days earlier, multiple MPs went after Biden after he apparently did not call Prime Minister Boris Johnson back for over a day as the situation devolved in Afghanistan.
If the US evacuates all Americans safely, unlikely there’s lasting impact on Biden’s domestic popular support.
But his credibility with coalition allies has been seriously damaged.
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) August 20, 2021
In another confusing moment, Biden seemed to backtrack on a promise he made to get all Americans out of Afghanistan even if it means staying past the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline. The president vowed to do so during an interview Wednesday with ABC News.
One reporter asked if he was committed to staying past the 31st to ensure all Americans and Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants are evacuated. Biden said he thinks “we can get it done by then” but noted they’d be making “that judgment as we go.” During the same speech, Biden promised that the administration is “making the same commitment” to the Afghan allies as they’ve made to get Americans out.
“His initial response was yes, I offer them the same commitment, but again, he then started hedging with things like ‘we’re going to do all we can,’ and when asked if he would extend the Aug. 31 deadline to get those allies out, he didn’t really answer that question,” an ABC News anchor said.
ABC News’ chief Washington correspondent Jon Karl responded, saying that “sadly” he doesn’t believe the U.S. is committed to getting the allies out no matter what. He also pointed out how the president “hedged” regarding that question.
“There are a lot of contradictory statements right now at this point, especially after just hearing from the president,” ABC News’ network correspondent Stephanie Ramos said. “Another point that I wanted to highlight is that he said efforts will continue over the coming days to continue to draw down and get those Americans and Afghans out. But then he also said that he is unsure of the outcome. So it goes back to that question: What happens after August 31st when there are still Americans and allies stuck there in Kabul and the surrounding areas and we get to that deadline?”
“Of course, the president has said he will come up with a different plan at that point and address it at that point, but it’s a really great question. There is just – we’re hearing two different stories here. Can Americans get to the airport or can they not?” she continued.