President Joe Biden faced growing criticism from his allies in Washington following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan as administration officials considered his public response. Democrats on Capitol Hill and former Obama administration officials joined Republicans in publicly criticizing Biden’s handling of the situation.
While most agreed with the decision to remove troops, they attacked Biden’s failure to get the thousands of Afghans who assisted U.S. forces out of the country before the Taliban took over and the scramble to evacuate Americans from the country.
“This is a crisis of untold proportions,” said Rep Jackie Speier, D-Cali., who urged Biden to make an address to the nation. “This is an intelligence failure.”
The mood inside the White House had grown more somber over the last week as it became clear the Afghan military was being overtaken by Taliban fighters across the country, said one person close to the White House. While the outcome wasn’t necessarily unexpected, the speed of the Taliban’s takeover came as a surprise, the person said.
“It’s certainly the case that the speed with which cities fell was much greater than anyone anticipated including the Afghans, including many of the analysts” monitoring the situation, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on NBC’s Today on Monday.
Sullivan insisted the U.S. was staying the course and that American troops wouldn’t be returning to fight the Taliban. “I think the worst-case scenario for the United States would be a circumstance in which we were adding back in thousands and thousands of troops to fight and die in civil war in Afghanistan, when the Afghan army wasn’t prepared to fight in itself,” Sullivan said.
The White House’s actions over the weekend demonstrated just how off-guard officials were caught by the pace of the Taliban’s ascent. Over the past 72 hours, the number of military personnel on the ground has grown, with 6,000 troops ultimately expected there in the coming days. The U.S. embassy, which the State Department had insisted Thursday would remain open, had been fully evacuated by Sunday evening.
“If you’re asking has the situation deteriorated in Afghanistan faster than was anticipated and expected not just by us, by the way, but broadly? I think the answer to that question is undeniably yes,” deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said on MSNBC on Monday.
Democratic strategists began to fret over the political fallout throughout the weekend. Polls have shown the majority of Americans supported Biden’s plan to withdraw the remaining U.S. troops when Biden announced the decision in the spring. But that sentiment could change with images of a brutal Taliban takeover just weeks before the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Over the weekend a chorus of former Obama administration officials publicly criticized Biden’s handling of the situation. Ryan Crocker, a former ambassador Afghanistan under the Obama administration, said the Biden administration had “a total lack of coordinated, post-withdrawal planning” and called the current predicament a “self-inflicted wound.”
Former CIA director David Petraeus, who oversaw forces in Afghanistan during the Obama administration, called the Taliban takeover “catastrophic” and an “enormous national security setback,” warning things will get much worse unless the U.S. changes course.
As Americans were airlifted from the embassy to board military flights out of the Kabul airport, Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., compared the scenes to the fall of Saigon, where Americans were rescued by helicopter off the embassy rooftop in 1975. Biden insisted last week there would be no comparison between Kabul and Saigon.
“It does feel like the fall of Saigon today, I’m not going to lie,” said Dingell Sunday morning.
In a written statement Saturday, Biden said his focus was on ensuring Americans were evacuated from the country safely and speeding up the process of getting visas for Afghans who aided the U.S. efforts and are now targets for the Taliban.
Biden was expected to stay at Camp David on Monday, where he spent the weekend isolated from many of his top advisers and out of public view; the only public image of him Sunday was a photo released from the White House showing the president at an empty conference room table holding a teleconference with his national security team.