Morning Joe Grills Biden Flack: You Left People Behind to Taliban ‘Medieval Cult’

Appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Tuesday, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby actually faced a grilling over the Biden administration’s catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan that abandoned as many as 200 Americans and tens of thousands of Afghan allies. The usually friendly broadcast for Democrats hammered the Defense Department spokesman over how so many could have left behind to the “medieval cult” of the Taliban.

“So President Biden, as you know, said in his interview with ABC News a couple of weeks ago that America would stay until every last American was out of the country,” co-host Willie Geist reminded Kirby as the segment began late in the 7:00 a.m. ET hour. The anchor then pressed: “Was there any consideration of extending the deadline until you got the Americans out, until you got some of those wartime partners out?”

After Kirby claimed it was too “dangerous and perilous” to keep U.S. forces in Kabul past the August 31 deadline, Geist pushed back: “With the last American troop now out of Afghanistan, as you look back on it now, would it have made sense to start these evacuations earlier so that you could hold to the August 31st deadline and still get everyone out of the country who wanted to leave the country?”

In part, Kirby bizarrely argued that the Pentagon had been preparing the evacuation for months despite all of the obvious last-minute planning and chaos: “I will tell you that non-combatant evacuation operations was not something the Pentagon wasn’t thinking of. We have thinking about this all the way back into the spring.”

Geist demanded: “What is your message to those Afghans who now – whose lives are now in danger quite literally moment to moment, who fought alongside us and believed that they had a commitment from the United States to help them get out when it was time?” Despite all evidence to the contrary, Kirby replied:  

I would tell them, Willie, that they still have that commitment….we’re heartbroken that we couldn’t get everybody out, but they still have our commitment, they still have the commitment of this administration and the United States and we’re going to do everything we can to continue to try to get them out of that country and out safely.

Wanting specifics to back up that empty rhetoric, Geist asked: “What does that American commitment mean? What does it look like? What can you do?” Kirby only vaguely referred to using “the range of the levers of power of the government” and promises to “hold the Taliban to what they’ve committed to, which is this safe passage of American citizens and our allies in Afghanistan to get out.”

Geist wasn’t buying it: “And what does it feel like to you, from the Department of Defense to put that level of faith in the Taliban, the medieval cult that treats brutally women and children and anyone who is seen as working with America?” Kirby defensively responded: “There’s nothing about faith here, Willie, nothing at all. It’s not about trust….nobody’s just going to take it at face value what the Taliban say. We’re going to hold them accountable for their actions.”

Even reliably liberal pundit Mike Barnicle threw a hardball:

Admiral, your career, your life, and the building that you work in have been and are built on a core, a core – a core that resounds throughout the military, “We leave no one behind.” What is the mood these past couple of days, what is the mood this morning in the E-ring of the Pentagon, as people walk around knowing that thousands have been left behind?

The reason why many in the media are hitting the Biden administration with such tough questioning is because the White House isn’t providing answers for how it created such a foreign policy disaster.

Here is a transcript of the contentious August 31 exchange:

7:46 AM ET

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WILLIE GEIST: So President Biden, as you know, said in his interview with ABC News a couple of weeks ago that America would stay until every last American was out of the country. Was there any consideration of extending the deadline until you got the Americans out, until you got some of those wartime partners out?

JOHN KIRBY: Well, you heard the President himself say that he was willing to have the Pentagon come up with contingency plans in case we needed to go past the 31st. But you also saw, Willie, in the last couple of days, just how dangerous and perilous the environment was getting, not just for the troops at the airport or the operations at the airport, but for local citizens near and around the airport. I mean, there was a very credible, very specific increasing threat
stream by ISIS that was making the entire operation more perilous and we had to make some decisions in the last couple of days to make sure that we could get everybody out as safely as possible and not imperil civilians any more than they already were.

GEIST: With the last American troop now out of Afghanistan, as you look back on it now, would it have made sense to start these evacuations earlier so that you could hold to the August 31st deadline and still get everyone out of the country who wanted to leave the country?

KIRBY: I think there’ll be time to sort of do the forensics here, Willie, and see what might have been done differently and those are fair questions. We’re asking ourselves the same questions as you might imagine. But what I can tell you is we went – within 48 hours we went from believing we had a capable, longtime ally in the Ghani government and the Afghan forces to having to develop a pragmatic relationship with a longtime enemy, which was the Taliban, and things move very, very quickly.

I will tell you that non-combatant evacuation operations was not something the Pentagon wasn’t thinking of. We have thinking about this all the way back into the spring. To the degree to which that we actually flowed forces into the theater off of ships to put them closer to Afghanistan so that if we had to do this, we could do it quickly. And it turned out that within 48 hours, we actually did have to do it, and that’s why we were able to get 3,000 troops on the ground literally within two days and not only defend but secure and continue the operations of a major international airport. A lot of planning went into this, Willie, and we’ll have time to do the forensics but we moved as fast as we could.

GEIST: We had Kristen Rouse on the show a few minutes ago, she served three tours in Afghanistan and she’s part of a group called Digital Dunkirk that’s trying to get interpreters, people they worked with, Afghans who put their lives on the line to fight alongside the United States, to try to get them out of the country, but hopes are dimming. She’s not quite sure how to get those people out now that the American military has gone. What is your message to those Afghans who now – whose lives are now in danger quite literally moment to moment, who fought alongside us and believed that they had a commitment from the United States to help them get out when it was time?

KIRBY: I would tell them, Willie, that they still have that commitment. We thank them for their service, we’re grateful for what they did. And we moved out an incredible number in a span of two weeks, 123,000, the vast majority of which were Afghans, Afghan allies, people like them who helped us. As General McKenzie said yesterday, we’re heartbroken that we couldn’t get everybody out, but they still have our commitment, they still have the commitment of this administration and the United States and we’re going to do everything we can to continue to try to get them out of that country and out safely.

GEIST: Admiral, what does that look like to – I’ll just use Kristen’s example – her personal interpreter, someone who she considered family because of the work he did and the sacrifice he made, married with five children, and literally moving hour to hour, moving house to house because the Taliban is hunting him. That’s just one story among thousands in that country. What does that American commitment mean? What does it look like? What can you do?

KIRBY: We have tools available to us across the range of the levers of power of the government. We’re going to use those tools to the maximum extent that we can, and we’re going to hold the Taliban to what they’ve committed to, which is this safe passage of American citizens and our allies in Afghanistan to get out. We’re going to hold them accountable to that.

GEIST: And what does it feel like to you, from the Department of Defense to put that level of faith in the Taliban, the medieval cult that treats brutally women and children and anyone who is seen as working with America?

KIRBY: There’s nothing about faith here, Willie, nothing at all. It’s not about trust. We developed a pragmatic relationship that we had to do over the last couple of weeks to help people get safely to the airport and get them out of there, and it worked. But believe me, nobody’s resting on laurels here and nobody’s just going to take it at face value what the Taliban say. We’re going to hold them accountable for their actions. Not just their words, their actions, and again, we have tools available to us across the range of our government to do that.

GEIST: Admiral, Mike Barnicle is here with a question for you. Mike?

MIKE BARNICLE: Admiral, your career, your life, and the building that you work in have been and are built on a core, a core – a core that resounds throughout the military, “We leave no one behind.” What is the mood these past couple of days, what is the mood this morning in the E-ring of the Pentagon, as people walk around knowing that thousands have been left behind? And what is the relationship today between the Pentagon, the top brass in the Pentagon, and the American State Department?

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