Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy clashed Tuesday with White House Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council John Kirby over the presence of al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
Doocy argued Kirby’s statement that the administration had knowledge of al-Qaida’s presence in Afghanistan is “not consistent” with President Joe Biden’s previous Aug. 20, 2021, remarks that the terrorist group was out of the country. On that day, Biden said, “What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point, with Al-Qaida gone?”
Kirby, the then-Pentagon press secretary, said later Aug. 20, 2o21, that there was a small presence of al-Qaida and ISIS in Afghanistan.
“In a major way, al-Qaida was not playing a—no, wait, let me finish,” Kirby responded Tuesday to Doocy. “They weren’t playing a major role in operations or resourcing or planning in Afghanistan. But Peter, I know specifically because I was at a different podium a year ago and we talked about the fact that al-Qaida had a presence in Afghanistan, but small and not incredibly powerful or potent. And, I think, again without getting into numbers, we would still assess that to be the case.”
“So, we know that the Taliban was harboring the world’s most wanted terrorist. You guys gave a whole country to a bunch of people that are on the FBI Most Wanted List, what did you think was going to happen?” Doocy asked.
“I take issue with the premise that we gave a whole country to terrorist groups,” he said.
“They were harboring the world’s number one terrorist, how is that giving a country to a terrorist-sympathizing group, if not giving them permission to have terrorists just sit on a balcony?” Doocy asked. (RELATED: People Think US Used The ‘Ninja Bomb’ To Annihilate That Al-Qaida Leader)
Kirby said the administration has vowed to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a “safe haven” for terrorists and pointed to “this past weekend” as proof of that promise. The president withdrew from the 20-year war in Afghanistan in 2021 to focus on contemporary national security interests rather than threats from 2001, he also said.
The reporter asked about what actions the administration will take against the Taliban violating the Doha agreement with the U.S. by sheltering al-Qaida’s top leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The White House announced Monday the death of al-Zawahiri, who was killed in a U.S. counterterrorism operation at 9:48 p.m. Eastern time Saturday.
“I’m not going to telegraph decisions that haven’t been made or policy initiatives one way or the other,” Kirby said.
“Are we waiting for some spectacular terrorist attack in the U.S. to then say ‘oh, well there’s terrorists in a safe haven in Afghanistan, now we can go get them,'” Doocy pressed.
“If we were, Peter, we wouldn’t have taken a hit on Saturday with the strike that we took on Mr. al-Zawahiri if we were just waiting. This isn’t about waiting, it’s about watching,” Kirby answered. “And we watch very closely and we acted on what we learned, and I would go so far as to say not only the American people are safer as a result of President Biden’s decision, but the rest of the world is safer.”