New Delhi, Aug 22: That not everyone in the Biden administration has been on the same page with regard to the fast-changing situation in Afghanistan has been proved yet again as reports have emerged of Americans being beaten by Taliban even as US President had claimed that the evacuation process has been progressing smoothly.
Caught off guard in faraway Kabul, Joe Biden is also facing fire in Washington with several Senators calling for a detailed investigation into the botched withdrawal and evacuation plan.
After holding extensive discussions on Afghanistan with Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and other members of the national security leadership team in the Situation Room of the White House on Friday, Joe Biden had warned Taliban that any attack on the US forces or disruption of their operations at the Kabul airport will be met with a swift and forceful response.
“As we continue to work the logistics of evacuation, we’re in constant contact with the Taliban, working to ensure civilians have safe passage to the airport. We’re particularly focused in our engagements on making sure every American who wants to leave can get to the airport. Where we have been – seen challenges with Americans – for Americans, we have thus far been able to resolve them,” Biden said in his speech after the meeting.
However, news site Politico reported that minutes after the comments made by the Commander-in-Chief from the East Room of the White House, Defence Secretary Austin told House lawmakers in a briefing call that Americans trying to leave Afghanistan have been beaten by Taliban fighters.
“We’re also aware that some people, including Americans, have been harassed and even beaten by the Taliban… This is unacceptable and [we] made it clear to the designated Taliban leader,” the Politico report quoted Austin as saying. Austin’s remarks to House members, the report said, appeared to “directly contradict” President Joe Biden’s assessment in which he had said the US was not aware of Americans having trouble getting through Taliban checkpoints and to the airport in Kabul.
Later, when asked about Austin’s briefing call, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby that the department is “certainly mindful” of these reports.
“We’re certainly mindful of these reports and they’re deeply troubling and we have communicated to the Taliban that that’s absolutely unacceptable, that we want free passage through their checkpoints for documented Americans and – by and large – that’s happening,” he said.
Meanwhile, as scenes of despair from outside Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport continue to play out on television screens globally, pressure is also building up on Biden at home as the mistakes made in the execution of the withdrawal become clearer.
“The plan to evacuate civilians was wholly inadequate. In the coming months, we need to examine why it has happened this way and make sure it never happens again. We must also scrutinize the intelligence behind this operation to understand whether it provided any clarity regarding how swiftly the Taliban would move in and what our response should have looked like,” Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said on Friday.
Another Senator, Ted Cruz, who represents the state of Texas in the US Senate, said that he finds it “entirely unacceptable” that the US can’t bring Americans into Kabul or guarantee safe passage to the airport in Kabul.
“There are 2 & only 2 possibilities: There was an intelligence failure by Biden’s admin to anticipate the collapse of the Afghan govt. Or the Biden admin knew what would happen & disregarded it for political reasons. Congress & the American people deserve to know the answer,” Cruz, who is also a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted Friday.
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