Biden Went Back on ‘Pledge’: Tapper Grills WH on Abandoned Americans

The day after he pulled all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, abandoning some 200 Americans in a terrorist safe haven, President Biden delivered an address to the nation where he literally shouted at the majority of Americans who knew he was responsible for the evacuation disaster. And CNN’s Jake Tapper wasn’t going to let the issue of Americans getting left behind stand during Tuesday’s edition of The Lead, grilling National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on why the President went back on his “pledge” to get them out.

One of his first questions to Sullivan was regarding how “President Biden just acknowledged, there are up to 200 American citizens who want to leave Afghanistan and didn’t make it out before the deadline.” He then noted that there were American citizens that did make it to the airport but were turned away at the gate, left to a fate dictated by the Taliban:

I’ve been told some U.S. Citizens who showed up to the airport before the deadline were left standing outside the gates. They were unable to get in. How are you going to get those Americans out? And what was the reason that some citizens could not get in? Was it entirely because of terrorist threats to Hamid Karzai International Airport?

Sullivan suggested that he and Marine General Kenneth McKenzie were not aware of any such cases. But he did flout just how much contempt the administration had for the people they had to rescue. According to him, it wasn’t their duty to save Americans but “we went out of our way for two full weeks to create the circumstances for any American who wanted to get to the airport and get on a plane to do so.”

And as they were nearing the end of the interview, Tapper pressed Sullivan on why Biden reneged on his pledged to stay in-country until every American was safely extracted (Click “expand”):

TAPPER: Jake, about 13 days ago I believe President Biden told ABC News that the U.S. military would stay in Afghanistan past the August 31 date if American citizens who wanted to get out remained in country by the deadline.

Now, I understand between that pledge and August 31 there was a horrific terrorist attack that killed 13 American service members, wounded at least 20, and killed scores of innocent Afghans. Is that what changed his mind and caused him to go back on that pledge?

SULLIVAN: I think there were two major factors in the President’s decision to leave on the 31st. And, by the way, that was a decision that was backed up unanimously by every one of his civilian and military advisers including the commanders on the ground, including his entire military leadership and his secretary of state.

Despite the fact that Biden had claimed Afghanistan would never collapse to the Taliban, essentially assuring those now-trapped Americans it was safe to stay, the President and the rest of the administration were blaming those Americans for being in their predicament.

Tapper was keen to their spin, and not long after Biden’s address he disarmed it by playing this soundbite from Biden’s interview with ABC:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you committed to making sure that the troops stay until every American who wants to be out is out?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yes. [Transition] If there are American citizens left, we’re going to stay till we get them all out.

“So, that was the promise that he had made early on … the idea that if they were there, the U.S. was going to stay there until they got out. That obviously did not happen,” Tapper sniped. He went on to ask chief political correspondent Dana Bash about how it could hurt Biden politically.

After noting that it all depended on how quickly he got those Americans home, she warned that her Democratic sources were talking about the administration possibly releasing some the country’s frozen assets to the Taliban:

There was one hint in their diplomatic strategy, a very strong hint, that is, he said we America has leverage over the Taliban. What he seemed to be referring to – and certainly what I have heard from Democratic sources on Capitol Hill is that what they’re relying on is the fact that the U.S. seized the assets of Afghanistan – that are obviously now at some point going to be controlled by the Taliban.

“The question is whether or not that is really leverage, and that is, again, these are some Biden allies I’m talking to, they don’t know whether or not just the money,” she warned.

The transcript is below, click “expand” to read:

CNN’s The Lead
August 31, 2021
3:55:29 p.m. Eastern

JAKE TAPPER: Welcome to The Lead. I’m Jake Tapper. And you’ve been watching President Biden addressing the nation just one day after the end of America’s longest war. President Biden praised the troops just minutes ago, the troops involved in the mass evacuation efforts. He said we can never repay the 13 U.S. service members killed in the terrorist attack last Thursday. President Biden also pledging that the United States will help evacuate any remaining Americans or Afghan nationals who want to leave Afghanistan.

(…)

3:58:38 p.m. Eastern

TAPPER: Clarissa ward joins us now from Pakistan, next door to Afghanistan. Clarissa, President Biden said that the administration had reached out to the Americans in Afghanistan to warn them that they should leave 19 times since March. He suggested they had time, they had ample warning to get out. Listen to his message to those Americans.

[Cuts to video]

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you committed to making sure that the troops stay until every American who wants to be out is out?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yes. [Transition] If there are American citizens left, we’re going to stay till we get them all out.

[Cuts back to live]

TAPPER: So, that was the promise that he had made early on, Clarissa, the idea that if they were there, the U.S. was going to stay there until they got out. That obviously did not happen.

CLARISSA WARD: It didn’t happen. And you could really feel the frustration in the President’s voice, that criticism he’s faced about that. He was saying that, listen, the door isn’t closed now, we continue to hold the Taliban at their word, and we will get those remaining Americans out.

His promise had been to get 100 percent out, as he made the point roughly 90 percent are out.

(…)

4:01:21 p.m. Eastern

TAPPER: So, Dana Bash, President Biden 13 days ago said that they would get every American out by August 31 and would stay longer if every American wasn’t out. Obviously, events overtook them. There was a terrorist attack, and the President said that it was the unanimous advice of his military and civilian advisers to withdraw August 31.

He said in addition in his speech just now that 90 percent of the Americans who wanted to get out would get out and the administration was still going to work on getting them out, just not through military means.

How do you think politically the American people are going to respond to that?

DANA BASH: It depends on how quickly he finds success with that promise. He said something to the effect of the deadline, the August 31 deadline was not for getting those remaining Americans out.

There was one hint in their diplomatic strategy, a very strong hint, that is, he said we America has leverage over the Taliban. What he seemed to be referring to – and certainly what I have heard from Democratic sources on Capitol Hill is that what they’re relying on is the fact that the U.S. seized the assets of Afghanistan – that are obviously now at some point going to be controlled by the Taliban.

The question is whether or not that is really leverage, and that is, again, these are some Biden allies I’m talking to, they don’t know whether or not just the money. It’s a lot of money, but even that is enough leverage to get the Taliban to actually make good on their promises that they are going to let some of those, all of those Americans get through.

And one thing I just want to add quickly, Jake, to what Clarissa said about the way that this is going to be perceived by Afghans. What I heard from the President was maybe certainly not compassion what she said that people in Afghanistan are expecting, it’s frustration and anger that all of the resources and the years and years of training and money and human cost didn’t add up to the Afghan army standing up, that they just melted away. And that is the message really the one that got through the most, the only one when it came to the people of Afghanistan.

(…)

4:27:02 p.m. Eastern

TAPPER: The war is over, but of course involvement with Afghanistan’s not over because as President Biden just acknowledged, there are up to 200 American citizens who want to leave Afghanistan and didn’t make it out before the deadline.

I’ve been told some U.S. Citizens who showed up to the airport before the deadline were left standing outside the gates. They were unable to get in. How are you going to get those Americans out? And what was the reason that some citizens could not get in? Was it entirely because of terrorist threats to Hamid Karzai International Airport?

JAKE SULLIVAN: Well, Jake, I think it’s really important to answer your question to start with the fact that we gave 19 messages starting in March to Americans to leave the country. We offered them financial assistance to leave the country. And then for more than two weeks we gave them specific instructions for how to come.

97 percent of the people we communicated with got to the airport and got out on planes. There’s a variety of reasons for why those remaining folks didn’t. Some changed their mind at the last minute. Some wanted to bring very large extended family who were not Americans who couldn’t get through checkpoints. Some may have shown up at the airport, although I have to tell you I’m not familiar, and General McKenzie spoke yesterday said he was not familiar with anyone being turned away at the gate at the last minute. So, I have not heard that particular report.

But the fact is that we went out of our way for two full weeks to create the circumstances for any American who wanted to get to the airport and get on a plane to do so. And the question the President ultimately faced was how long do I keep U.S. marines in harm’s way with threats escalating hour by hour? How many more days do I do that? He ultimately decided it was right to end it and to shift to a diplomatic mission. And we have plenty of leverage with the Taliban to help effectuate the safe passage of any further Americans who want to leave Afghanistan.

TAPPER: How are you going to get the Americans and U.S. legal permanent residents, how are you going to get them out?

SULLIVAN: There are two primary ways that obviously people can leave Afghanistan. One would be by air and we’re working closely with other countries to get charter air flights going in the short term, and then to get American citizens who want to leave the country or legal permanent residents onto those flights and out.

The second is by ground. We are working with neighboring countries to be able to accept American citizens or legal permanent residents traveling by ground across borders to get them processed and then get them safely out of the country.

We will work through any American who’s still in the country just as we did for the last two weeks. We’ll call them, we’ll email them, we’ll WhatsApp them. They can talk to us about how to create a plan and execute on that plan. We’ll do it person by person, case by case, by air or by ground anyone who wants to leave the country we will make that happen.

(…)

4:32:20 p.m. Eastern

TAPPER: Jake, about 13 days ago I believe President Biden told ABC News that the U.S. military would stay in Afghanistan past the August 31 date if American citizens who wanted to get out remained in country by the deadline.

Now, I understand between that pledge and August 31 there was a horrific terrorist attack that killed 13 American service members, wounded at least 20, and killed scores of innocent Afghans. Is that what changed his mind and caused him to go back on that pledge?

SULLIVAN: I think there were two major factors in the President’s decision to leave on the 31st. And, by the way, that was a decision that was backed up unanimously by every one of his civilian and military advisers including the commanders on the ground, including his entire military leadership and his secretary of state.

Everyone stood behind that decision because they believed not only was there going to be increasing risk to force, which is to say the likelihood that more American Marines could die the longer that we stayed. But there was increasing risk to mission as well because the United States’ presence at that airfield was creating a greater magnet for terrorism, instability and violence than us transitioning from a military to a diplomatic mission.

He ultimately made the judgment that we were more likely to get more Americans out of that country and more Afghan allies out of that country by leaving than by staying on an open-ended basis. That was a judgment he made as the dynamic situation evolved over the course of the 13 days from the ABC interview to the 31st and it’s a judgment that he very much stands behind.

(…)

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