On Friday, Mr. Biden, who had been back and forth from vacation spots at Camp David and Wilmington, Del., took questions for the first time since Afghanistan fell. He was asked about the international response to the U.S. withdrawal and how much military and intelligence officials knew ahead of time about the tenuous situation on the ground. He said he had not been criticized by an American ally for the withdrawal effort, but officials in Germany and Britain have publicly expressed alarm about how it was conducted.
“What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point, with Al Qaeda gone?” Mr. Biden asked in response to a question about whether American allies had been critical of the withdrawal effort. “We went and did the mission. You’ve known my position for a long, long time.”
Mr. Biden’s claim that Al Qaeda has left the country conflicts with a report from the United Nations in June, which estimated that the terrorist group still had a presence in at least 15 provinces, while the Defense Department’s inspector general said in a report released on Wednesday that the Taliban continued to provide “safe haven” for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Scenes of chaos at the airport, which included a young infant being hoisted over a razor wire fence into the arms of American soldiers, have added to the scrutiny over Mr. Biden’s defense of his decision to pull troops out. Mr. Biden said the United States had “6,000 of America’s finest fighting men and women” working to restore order at the airport and get people out of the country.
Since 2002, the United States has employed Afghans to assist its troops, diplomats and aid workers. Many of those people were threatened, attacked or forced to flee their homes as a result of their work, prompting Congress in 2009 to establish a visa program specifically for those who had helped the U.S. government, as well as their immediate relatives.
Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that came after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including floggings, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as rulers.
The program is separate from the process typically used by those fleeing persecution or torture. About 18,000 people are in the process of applying for the visas, and those applicants have at least 53,000 relatives who would be eligible to join them. Despite a congressional mandate that the United States process the visas in nine months, thousands have faced long delays for vetting.
Responding to a question about why he had not authorized the military to expand the perimeter around the airport so more people could gain access to flights out, Mr. Biden said he did not want to open the floodgates, adding that “there will be judgments made on the ground by the military commanders and I cannot second-guess those judgments.” The military cannot expand the perimeter without authorization from the president.