Biden said he had 'trust' in the Afghan military. Weeks later, it's facing total defeat and a Taliban takeover.
- Biden said in July that a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan was "highly unlikely," but the Taliban is surging.
- He said he had "trust" in the capability of the Afghan armed forces, which are being routed nationwide.
- The Pentagon says 'no outcome has to be inevitable here," but the situation is rapidly deteriorating.
In early July, President Joe Biden vehemently rejected the notion that withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan meant a Taliban takeover of the country was "inevitable."
"The likelihood there's going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely," Biden said during a news conference on July 8, underscoring that the Afghan armed forces were "as well-equipped as any army in the world."
"I trust the capacity of the Afghan military, who is better trained, better equipped, and ... more competent in terms of conducting war," the president said at the time, responding to questions about whether withdrawing the roughly 2,500 remaining US troops would precipitate a civil war or a Taliban victory.
On July 21, amid grim predictions that the security situation in Afghanistan would deteriorate, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley emphasized in a press conference at the Pentagon that none of the 34 provincial capitals had been seized and that "a negative outcome - a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan - is not a foregone conclusion."
A little over a month since Biden's press briefing, his "trust" in Afghan forces increasingly appears misplaced as the Taliban makes rapid gains - capturing more than a dozen provincial capitals in the past week alone - and raising the likelihood of the entire country falling to the Taliban.
The insurgents now control over two-thirds of the country, as well as major cities like Herat and Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city and the birthplace of the militant Islamist group.
The US military assesses that Kabul, the capital, could be isolated within the next 30 to 60 days and captured within 90, per ABC News.
The Biden administration has consistently maintained that it is up to the Afghan government and military to ward off the Taliban and insisted the Afghan military has the capacity and capability to do so. Speaking to reporters Friday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that while Taliban actions are "deeply concerning" at the moment, "no outcome has to be inevitable here."
Though the security situation has deteriorated with blistering speed, Biden on Tuesday told reporters he does not regret ordering the withdrawal.
"Look, we spent over a trillion dollars over 20 years. We trained and equipped with modern equipment over 300,000 Afghan forces," Biden said. "And Afghan leaders have to come together. We lost thousands - lost to death and injury - thousands of American personnel. They've got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation."
But the US-trained and equipped Afghan forces have consistently proven to be either unwilling or unable to keep the Taliban at bay. As Afghan troops have surrendered, the Taliban has seized weapons provided by the US, forcing the US to carry out strikes on captured military equipment to stop the Taliban from turning it on the Afghan forces.
Biden in July said that there would be no moment akin to the desperate evacuation of the US embassy in Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War.
"The Taliban is not the south - the North Vietnamese army. They're not - they're not remotely comparable in terms of capability," Biden said at the time. "There's going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy in the - of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable."
Fast-forward to this week, and the US has moved to pull much of its civilian personnel from the US embassy in Kabul, sending in 3,000 additional troops to help with the process. The Biden administration has insisted this does not qualify as an "evacuation" even as reports emerge of US officials beginning to destroy classified materials.
-Katy Tur Reports (@KatyOnMSNBC) August 13, 2021
American veterans of the war in Afghanistan have expressed dismay at the situation on the ground - and criticized the US government's handling of the withdrawal - as provincial capitals fall like dominoes and reports of atrocities continue to emerge.
GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a US Air Force veteran who served in Afghanistan, in a tweet responding to the news of the evacuation of the embassy in Kabul said the "devastating developments" in the country "are hard to watch, and were entirely avoidable."
"I think one of the lessons for us here is there's a difference between arming, equipping, training and giving resources to an army - and actually that army's and that force's will to fight," Democratic Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado, a former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan, said during a CNN interview on Friday.
Crow and other lawmakers in Washington have been especially critical of the slow pace at which Afghan translators and others who helped the US throughout the conflict have been evacuated from the country. The Taliban has targeted and brutally murdered Afghans who assisted the US.
Speaking with Politico last month, Crow said the evacuations should've began the moment the withdrawal was announced. "We're out of time. People are dying now," Crow said.
But there are also those in Washington who continue to agree with Biden that it was time to pull US forces out of the longest war in the nation's history.
"The rapid advancement of the Taliban isn't a reason to reverse course and stay," Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a tweet on Sunday. "It's a reminder of the continued American hubris that leads us to believe that we can mold foreign armies into our own image."
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