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White House Officials Defended Withdrawal From Afghanistan


The White House acknowledged today that there are, quote, "reasonable questions" about how the Biden administration is withdrawing from Afghanistan. But the president's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, defended Biden's decision to get out.


JAKE SULLIVAN: We're all contending with the human costs of these developments. The images from the past couple of days at the airport have been heartbreaking. But President Biden had to think about the human costs of the alternative path as well.

CHANG: It was the first time the White House took questions since Kabul fell to the Taliban. NPR's Ayesha Rascoe was there to get some answers and joins us now.

Hi, Ayesha.


CHANG: All right, so what is the first priority for the White House right now when it comes to Afghanistan?

RASCOE: Right now they say their focus is getting people out of the country - so those American citizens in the country, Afghans who have helped the U.S. military or media organizations, citizens of other U.S. allies who may be attempting to leave Afghanistan. Here's what Jake Sullivan said - had to say about that.


SULLIVAN: At the end of the day, the question is, can we effectively evacuate those people who we intend to evacuate? And that is what we are planning for and executing against.

RASCOE: Sullivan and White House press secretary Jen Psaki were asked repeatedly if the U.S. would stay on after August 31, if the evacuations weren't completed by that time. There wasn't a definitive answer for that. Sullivan said the U.S. is talking to the Taliban about the timetable, but he doesn't want to negotiate this in public. The White House doesn't view this as the worst-case scenario because there hasn't been widespread violence in Kabul, and the focus is on assuring that that remains the case and on getting U.S. personnel and others out.

CHANG: OK, but what about all the criticism the president has been getting about how this evacuation has unfolded? I mean, how is the White House responding to all that so far?

RASCOE: I asked Sullivan about President Biden's comment that the buck stops with him and whether his administration takes responsibility for the chaotic scenes at the airport and bloodshed in Afghanistan as the Taliban has taken over because the president said that, but he also blamed a lot of other people yesterday. Sullivan said the president and the administration take responsibility for every decision that they've made regarding Afghanistan, but he also continued to defend the decision to leave and not to continue to put American armed forces at risk.

This is a big crisis for the administration. You have prominent Democrats that have said the administration's execution of this withdrawal was flawed. And Sullivan argued that winding down the U.S. presence during a civil war was bound to include some chaotic scenes. At the same time, though, just last month, Biden told reporters he didn't expect to see diplomats being airlifted from the roof of an embassy, but that's what happened.

CHANG: Exactly. Well, what did the White House have to say to allies who may be concerned after watching what's happening in Afghanistan?

RASCOE: Chinese state media have jumped on this. They've been pushing the argument that Afghanistan shows the U.S. will not back Taiwan in the event of a conflict. But Sullivan stressed that the U.S. will not abandon its allies. Here's what he had to say.


SULLIVAN: We believe that our commitments to our allies and partners are sacrosanct and always have been. We believe our commitment to Taiwan and to Israel remains as strong as it's ever been.

RASCOE: Sullivan said the U.S. is not pulling troops out of South Korea or other places where there's been a continued U.S. military presence. He said all of those countries represent different situations, and it's not the same as what happened in Afghanistan.

CHANG: That is NPR's Ayesha Rascoe.

Thank you, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.

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