Despite President Joe Biden’s efforts to project steely resolve in leaving Afghanistan, members of his administration have seemed reluctant to answer questions about things that went wrong.
At Wednesday’s White House press briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki skipped over a question about reports that American journalists were among those left behind in Afghanistan. (RELATED: Psaki Won’t Say If US, Taliban Have Agreement On Remaining Americans)
Fox News White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich asked about the journalists, saying, “We’re hearing from senior State Department officials that there were constraints getting people through the gates at HKIA, that the communication methods to contact people were available to so many that they were instantly stopped.”
“The priority groups couldn’t get through. Was that a contingency that was planned for?” Heinrich continued.
“Jacqui, it’s important to remember, 120,000 people made it out of the airport. Out of the country,” Psaki replied, not directly addressing the question about contingencies. Instead, Psaki pivoted to talk about the ways the administration had communicated with those who wanted to leave and the efforts they had made to help as many as possible evacuate.
“The State Department would blast notifications to a variety of channels to American citizens telling them to meet at a specific location that would bus people to the airport or on foot. We had multiple opportunities for each of these muster points, each with multiple transits to the airport. The majority of Americans that go out were evacuated this way,” Psaki said.
She did not circle back to the initial question about stranded journalists but went on to note that, in some cases, United States operatives had gone “beyond the wire” and made pick-ups by helicopter.
“I note those because it’s important to understand the steps and the roles that our U.S. Military on the ground took far beyond checking people off at a list at the gate to ensure to get American citizens, Afghan partners out and we will continue those efforts,” Psaki concluded.
Just moments later, Psaki spun a question about a report that Biden had pressured then Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to present a false narrative to the world, making it look as though his government was better able to stand up to the Taliban than it actually was. (RELATED: ‘Whether It Is True Or Not’: Biden Reportedly Urged Afghan President To Convince The World They Had Taliban Under Control)
“I am not going to go into the details of a private conversation,” @PressSec says when asked about a leaked call in which Biden pressured the former Afghan president to suggest the fight against the Taliban was going well “whether it is true or not”
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) September 1, 2021
“Was the president in any way pushing a false narrative in that call with the Afghan president?” a reporter asked, referencing a Reuters report about a July 23 phone call between Biden and Ghani.
According to the report, Biden stressed to Ghani the importance of optics and presenting the appearance that he would be able to handle the Taliban — and promised to deliver continued air support as long Ghani was ready to create a new “perception” and show that he was willing to work with other leaders within Afghanistan and embrace a new strategy.
“I think it’s clear,” Psaki replied, adding that she was not going to “go into detail” about what Biden said to Ghani in a private call. “What we saw the last few months is a collapse in leadership. That was happening even before Ghani left the country. The president has conveyed privately and publicly, ‘You need to stand up and lead your country.’ That’s something that he said in July in public forum as well.”
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain also punted a question from Mehdi Hasan on whether the United States would officially recognize the Taliban government — and he could not give a definitive answer, saying only that it was not likely to be “anytime soon” and that it might never happen.
Me: “Will the U.S. be recognizing the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan any time soon?”
White House chief of staff Ron Klain: “I don’t think anytime soon, I don’t know if we will ever recognize their government.”
Some breaking news tonight…pic.twitter.com/KBFCT5Maod
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) September 1, 2021
Critics such as former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley have openly called for the U.S. to refuse to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government.
A group that harbors some of the world’s worst terrorists and sets off suicide bombs in marketplaces is not worthy of recognition.
Sign this petition to tell Joe Biden that he must refuse to acknowledge the Taliban as the head of Afghanistan’s government:https://t.co/VKf80PDSjc
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) September 1, 2021
However, the U.S. State Department has not given a definitive answer one way or the other, instead saying that every interaction with the Taliban — including whether the U.S. will provide aid to the country in the future — will be dependent on the Taliban’s willingness to make good on promises to lead the country in a more positive direction then they have in the past.
▪️The State Department said Friday that US expects follow through on pledges by Taliban for Washington to recognize the group diplomatically.
▪️It said it finds some of statements from Taliban positive. pic.twitter.com/ktMQGMafwc
— EHA News (@eha_news) August 28, 2021
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley joined the ranks of spin doctors as well, dodging questions on what it might look like as the U.S. tries to make good on Biden’s promise to continue to hold ISIS-K accountable.
A reporter asked at Wednesday’s Pentagon press briefing what Americans could expect from the U.S. working with the Taliban.
“I’m wondering what you think these experiences say about the prospects for a United States relationship with the Taliban to include the possibility of any kind of coordination in counterterrorism operations against ISIS-K in Afghanistan?” he asked.
“First of all, let me applaud the initiative of our commanders on the ground who would stop at nothing to accomplish the mission that they were provided of evacuating as many American citizens, third country nationals, and SIV applicants as possible. We were focused on — we were working with the Taliban on a very narrow set of issues,” Austin replied, saying that he would not necessarily look at that cooperation as a blueprint for future efforts.
“It is hard to predict where this will go in the future with respect to the Taliban,” he continued. “We don’t know what the future of the Taliban is but I can tell you from personal experience that this is a ruthless group in the past.”
“Whether or not they change,” Milley added, “remains to be seen.”