Joe Biden crumbled when confronted by reporters with the deaths of 13 troops and 90 people who were slaughtered at Kabul airport on Thursday by two ISIS bomb attacks in the latest tragic episode of his disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The 78-year-old President was lost for words at times and and frustrated in others, gripping his notebook and widening his eyes while reporters from a pre-approved list asked him questions for about 30 minutes.
The press conference was at 5pm, nearly eight hours after the two blasts. Biden said nothing all day before the briefing.
When pressed, accepted responsibility for the violence but still stood by his decision to withdraw troops hastily while thousands of Americans remained in the country.
He then tried to blame it all on former President Donald Trump, who made the initial decision to withdraw.
Trump has since claimed the attacks on Thursday would not have happened on his watch, because ISIS and the Taliban were too afraid of the force he would use in retaliation. He has also slammed Biden’s team for giving the Taliban a list of Afghan allies they said should be evacuated, calling it a ‘kill list’ for a group of terrorists who may end up killing them in revenge for their cooperation with the US in the war.
Biden has vowed to hunt down the killers responsible but in the meantime, he still has to get nearly 1,000 Americans out of the country before August 31 – a deadline the Taliban is insisting on.
He didn’t know about the kill list when asked at the press conference, but said it ‘could exist’.
As has become the norm for Biden, he was given a list of pre-approved journalists to call upon at the press briefing.
Last week, a top cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra, consultant and expert in evidence-based medicine, expressed concerns about Biden’s age and mental and physical well being.
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President Joe Biden bowed his head as he listened to a question from Peter Doocy of Fox News as he took questions after giving an update on the situation in Afghanistan and the deaths of 12 servicemembers
The President was taking questions from a pre-approved list of reporters but he still widened his eyes and looked lost for words at times throughout the press conference that he had more than 7 hours to prepare for
Biden – at 78 – is the oldest president and has previously suffered two brain aneurysms and a heart condition which makes the muscle beat too fast, causing dizziness and confusion.
After working his way through a list of reporters, Biden called on Fox’s Peter Doocy, who also followed Biden on the campaign trail, was one of the six members of the press the president called on
‘There had not been a U.S. service member killed in combat since February of 2020. You set a deadline, you pulled troops out, you sent troops back in, and now 12 marines are dead,’ he said, using the death toll that has since been updated to confirm an extra fatality.
‘You said the buck stops with you. Do you bear any responsibility for the way things have unfolded the last two weeks?’
Biden griped his notebook with both hands and was quick with his first answer.
‘I bear responsibility for fundamentally all that’s happened of late,’ he responded.
He then tried to blame it on Trump, saying Trump planned to be out by May 1 and that he delayed it.
‘You know – I wish one day you’d say these things. You know as well as I do that the former President made a deal with the Taliban that he would get all American forces out of Afghanistan by May 1. In return the was made – that was a year before.
‘In return for the commitment, the Taliban would continue to attack others but would not attack any American forces. Remember that? I’m being serious. I’m asking you a question,’ he said.
Thursday’s terror attack, which Biden attributed to ISIS-K, now poses a major political and military challenge
Injured Afghans in hospital on Friday morning, the day after being struck by two ISIS suicide bombs at Kabul airport
This is the bloody aftermath at Kabul airport on Friday. Blood-soaked clothes and discarded shoes are scattered across the ground in front of a lone Taliban fighter at one of the airport’s gates
TODAY and YESTERDAY: Crowds pack into the open sewer which runs around the airport perimeter (left) just hours after it was the scene of carnage when a suicide bomber blew himself up
Afghans desperate to flee the country returned to the fetid canal which runs the perimeter of Kabul airport
ISIS has claimed responsibility for Thursday’s sequence of attacks. A fighter is shown in a grab from the group’s Telegram account, where they are allowed to operate
‘Is that accurate to the best of your knowledge, yes or no,’ said Biden, trying to get Doocy to commit to an answer about the
Doocy responded by saying, ‘Do you think the people have an issue with the way things have happened?’
Clearly frustrated, he put his head in his hands.
Former President Donald Trump on Thursday night released this statement fuming over Biden’s handling of the withdrawal after the first American lives were lost
He lifted his head, took a breath to compose himself and answered.
‘I think they have an issue that people are likely to get hurt. Some as we’ve seen have gotten killed, and that it is messy.
‘The reason why, whether my friend will acknowledge it or has reported it, the reason why there were no attacks on Americans as you said from the day I came into office was because a commitment was made by President Trump: I will be out by May 1.
‘In the meantime, you agree not to attack any Americans That was the deal. That’s why no American was attacked.’
Biden seemed content with his answer and braced for the follow up question. His eyes widened and his body tensed. His hands dropped to in front of his body.
‘So you squarely stand by your decision to pull out,’ Doocy asked.
The president dug his heels in and demonstratively said, ‘Yes, I do.’
‘Because look at it this way folks, and I have another meeting for real. But imagine where we’d be if I had indicated on May the first that I was not going to renegotiate an evacuation date. We were going to stay there,’ he said.
‘I’d have only one alternative: to pour thousands of troops back into Afghanistan to fight a war that we had already won relative to the reason why we went in the first place.
‘I have never been of the view that we should be sacrificing American lives to try to establish a democratic government in Afghanistan, a country that has never once in its entire history been a united country.
‘And is made up of different tribes who have never ever ever got along with one another. So as I said before, and this is the last comment I’ll make, we’ll have a chance to talk about this unfortunately beyond because we are not out yet.
Critics are now calling for Biden’s resignation or for him to be impeached
‘And so, as I said before — and this is the last comment I’ll make, but we’ll have more chance to talk about this, unfortunately, beyond, because we’re not out yet — if Osama bin Laden, as well as al Qaeda, had chosen to launch an attack — when they left Saudi Arabia — out of Yemen, would we have ever gone to Afghanistan? Even though the Taliban completely controlled Afghanistan at the time, would we have ever gone?
‘I know it’s not fair to ask you questions. It’s rhetorical. But raise your hand if you think we should have gone and given up thousands of lives and tens of thousands of wounded.
‘Our interest in going was to prevent al Qaeda from reemerging — first to get bin Laden, wipe out al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and prevent that from happening again.
‘As I’ve said 100 times: Terrorism has metastasized around the world; we have greater threats coming out of other countries a heck of a lot closer to the United States.
‘We don’t have military encampments there; we don’t keep people there. We have over-the-horizon capability to keep them from going after us.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, it was time to end a 20-year war.’
Biden’s handling of the withdrawal has been almost universally condemned.
‘We will make you pay’: Biden vows to ‘hunt down’ ISIS-K for double suicide bomb attack that killed 13 US troops and 90 Afghans and tells Pentagon to draw up airstrike plans. Takes responsibility for carnage BUT stands by troop withdrawal
President Joe Biden promised on Thursday to hunt down and destroy the ISIS-K terrorists who killed 13 American service personnel and dozens of Afghans in a double suicide attack on Kabul airport.
He paid tribute to the ‘selfless heroes’ who died helping vulnerable people to safety, but delivered a stern warning to the Islamic state offshoot behind the blasts that killed 11 U.S. Marines, a Navy medic and another service member screening evacuees at the airport gates.
The two locations targeted in the bombings were the Abbey Gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport, where US troops were screening Afghans for evacuation, and the nearby Baron Hotel, where thousands including Afghans, Britons and Americans, were told to gather in recent days before heading to the airport for evacuation.
The Pentagon warned there is still an imminent threat of attack at the airport and have now been told to draw up strike plans to hit ISIS-K assets and leadership.
‘For those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive, we will not forget,’ Biden said in an address at the White House. ‘We will hunt you down and make you pay.’
Biden spoke to the nation Thursday and took questions from the press after a day of consulting with his national security team and senior generals, while Republicans said he had ‘blood on his hands’ and demanded he resign or be impeached.
He admitted that he must take responsibility for everything that has happened in Afghanistan since deciding to withdraw – including the deaths of 13 service members – but stood by his decision to leave by August 31 and insisted the military timeline wouldn’t change.
‘Let me take the one question from the most interesting guy I know in the press,’ Biden said, directing his final question of his briefing to Fox News’ Peter Doocy.
‘You set a deadline, you pulled troops out, you sent troops back in and now 12 Marines are dead,’ Doocy said in a press conference before the latest confirmed service member death.
‘You said the buck stops with you. Do you bear any responsibility for the way that things unfolded in the last two weeks?’ he asked
‘I bear responsibility for fundamentally all that’s happened of late,’ he said, before saying he had inherited a commitment to leave Afghanistan from the previous administration.
‘Here’s the deal, you know…as well as I do that the former president made a deal with the Taliban that he would get all American forces out of Afghanistan by May 1.’
Biden revealed that he already asked his commanders for plans to strike back at the Afghan Islamic State offshoot that was responsible for the attack.
‘I’ve also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities,’ he said.
‘We will respond with force and precision at the place we choose and a moment of our choosing.’
Wounded Afghans lie on a bed at a hospital after a deadly explosions outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. Two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul’s airport Thursday, transforming a scene of desperation into one of horror in the waning days of an airlift for those fleeing the Taliban takeover
The blast was outside The Baron Hotel, at the Abbey Gate of Kabul airport. Westerners were staying in the hotel before their evacuation flights
The Pentagon first publicly confirmed the blasts shortly after 6pm Kabul time on Thursday, and later confirmed a staggering US military death toll that is the highest in one day in Afghanistan since 2011.
General Frank McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, said that the attack on the Abbey Gate unfolded after at least one suicide bomber was able to get through initial Taliban screening points.
The Taliban maintains an outer perimeter around the airport, and is supposed to screen Afghans before they reach US-manned checkpoints. McKenzie speculated that the bomber may have slipped through due to incompetence among the Taliban militants.
As Marines were conducting a pat-down at a secondary checkpoint, the apparent suicide bomb detonated, creating scenes of carnage that were shared on social video.
The bomb at the Abbey Gate struck people standing knee-deep in a wastewater canal under the sweltering sun, throwing bodies into the fetid water.
The filthy canal was filled with bloodsoaked corpses, some being fished out and laid in heaps on the canal side while wailing civilians searched for loved ones.
Those who moments earlier had hoped to get on flights out could be seen carrying the wounded to ambulances in a daze, their own clothes darkened with blood.
Biden has been under intense pressure to justify his decision to withdraw by August 31, after the way in which the Taliban raced across the country and captured the capital. That pressure reached fever pitch on Thursday as Republicans called for Biden’s resignation or impeachment.
Administration officials have been forced to negotiate with Kabul’s new rulers in order to ensure Westerners and vulnerable Afghans could reach the airport.
Warnings had grown in recent days that ISIS-K was planning a major attack. Other nations suspended their evacuation work and began flying their last remaining staff and military personnel out of the country.
But Biden said the U.S. would continue with the operation to rescue another 1000 Americans believed to still be in Kabul.
‘We will not be deterred by terrorists,’ he said. ‘We’ll not let them stop our mission.’
A bloodied patient was laying in the recovery unit at Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital after being injured in the deadly explosions
A wounded man walked out of an emergency room in Kabul bloodied and with an IV bag in hand
A man who was severely injured in the deadly attacks outside the airport in Kabul laid in a hospital bed on August 26, 2021 waiting for professional care
Criticism of his handling of the crisis mounted throughout the day as Biden remained out of sight. The White House did not issue a statement and the Secretary State and Secretary of Defense also failed to appear.
Biden began his speech with a tribute to the personnel who died, his voice cracking with emotion.
‘These American service members who gave their lives – it’s an overused word, but it’s totally appropriate – were heroes … heroes who have been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others,’ he said.
‘They are part of an airlift, an evacuation effort unlike any seen in history.’
The White House announced soon after that flags would be flown at half staff from federal buildings.
At least 60 Afghans also died on Thursday when the two bombs went off amid the desperate clamour to escape Kabul.
The first bomber was being searched by troops when he detonated a suicide vest. The second was a car bomb attack. It’s unclear how the first bomber got through Taliban checkpoints and close enough to the Marines to kill them.
The death toll is thought to be the highest in a single incident in Afghanistan since 30 died when a helicopter was shot down in 2011.
In a statement, Islamic State claimed responsibility and said one of its suicide bombers had targeted ‘translators and collaborators with the American army.’
General Kenneth F. McKenzie, commander of CentCom, promised that the evacuation effort would continue despite the growing threat from ISIS and said he would ‘go after’ those responsible for the blasts.
He said the US military had Apache attack helicopters, MQ-9 Reaper drones, F-15 fighters and AC-130 Gunships flying over Afghanistan and warned further attacks by the terrorists were imminent.
‘We expect these attacks to continue,’ General McKenzie said, saying he was particularly concerned about the risk of further car bomb attacks.
Despite the danger, he said there was no alternative but to have troops continue to search people on the ground before they board flights, and that more than 100,000 had already been checked.
One thousand Americans remain in Afghanistan but McKenzie said not all of them want to leave. He said his personnel would work to get those who do want to leave out, but that the operation was becoming increasingly difficult as the deadline approached.
Republicans stepped up their attacks on Biden. Nikki Haley, former US ambassador to the UN, and others demanded he resign or be impeached for his handling of the the withdrawal.
H.R McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, said Thursday’s attack was ‘just the beginning.’
In this frame grab from video, people attend to a wounded man near the site of a deadly explosion outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021
A man injured in the Kabul terrorists attacks on Thursday arrives at hospital to be treated. Among those killed in the two bomb attacks were 11 US Marines and one Navy medic
Medical staff bring an injured man to a hospital in an ambulance after two powerful explosions, which killed at least six people, outside the airport in Kabul on August 26, 2021
Horrifying footage from Kabul airport shows dozens of Afghans lying in blood after two ISIS suicide bombers attacked crowds who were hoping to flee the Taliban
Wounded women arrive at a hospital for treatment after two blasts, which killed at least five and wounded a dozen, outside the airport in Kabul on August 26, 2021
Medical and hospital staff bring an injured man on a stretcher for treatment after two powerful explosions, which killed at least six people, outside the airport in Kabul on August 26, 2021
In this frame grab from video, a medical worker attends to a person wounded in a deadly explosion at the Kabul airport, at a hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan
‘We are going to see horrible image after horrible image.
‘We’re going to confront the steady drumbeat of horrors inflicted on the Afghan people. What are we going to do about it?
‘Are we going to give a damn? Or is this going to be like Rwanda?’ McMaster told Yahoo News, referring to the 1994 slaughter of 800,000 people in Rwanda.
‘I would not be surprised at all if ISIS-K — in fact, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t the case — is being used by the Haqqani network as a cutout to attack us and humiliate us on our way out,’ he added.
With the Taliban in charge of the city, there has not yet been any official death toll. Witnesses suggested as many as 60 Afghans had died.
Norway, Poland, Holland and Canada have all stopped evacuating citizens.
General McKenzie said the US would keep evacuating its citizens despite Thursday’s attack and despite an ‘imminent’ threat of more attacks.
The threat they are most concerned about is another car bomb, he said, but there is also intelligence to suggest ISIS wants to launch a rocket attack too.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, left, refused to take questions at a briefing on Thursday afternoon and instead let General Kenneth F. McKenzie, the commander on the ground, speak to reporters via Zoom
Gen. McKenzie said the US would go after ISIS to retaliate if they can find the right groups. The threat of a suicide-born vehicle threat is ‘very high.’
He also said the US was working to determine how the suicide bomber got through, and that it may have been down to Taliban incompetence.
He said there was no evidence the Taliban helped facilitate the attack.
Among critics on Thursday as Trump’s National Security Adviser, H.R McMaster, who said the attacks were ‘just the beginning’
‘Clearly, if they get up to the Marines, there was a failure here. The Taliban operate with varying degrees of competence – some of these guys are good and scrupulous, and some are not,’ he said.
General McKenzie is the only person from the government to speak to reporters about the fiasco. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken only tweeted about it.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement: ‘On behalf of the men and women of the Department of Defense, I express my deepest condolences to the loved ones and teammates of all those killed and wounded in Kabul today.
‘Terrorists took their lives at the very moment these troops were trying to save the lives of others. We mourn their loss. We will treat their wounds. And we will support their families in what will most assuredly be devastating grief.
‘But we will not be dissuaded from the task at hand. To do anything less – especially now – would dishonor the purpose and sacrifice these men and women have rendered our country and the people of Afghanistan.’
Republicans, outraged about the terrorist attacks in Kabul that left US personnel dead, accused President Biden of having ‘blood on his hands,’ as Sen. Lindsey Graham urged the US to take back control of Bagram airbase after reports of two explosions at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
‘I have advocated for days that the Bagram Air Base should be reopened as the Kabul airport is very difficult to defend and has been the only evacuation outlet,’ the South Carolina Republican wrote on Twitter.
‘We have the capability to reestablish our presence at Bagram to continue to evacuate American citizens and our Afghan allies. The biggest mistake in this debacle is abandoning Bagram.’
‘I urge the Biden Administration to reestablish our presence in Bagram as an alternative to the Kabul airport so that we do not leave our fellow citizens and thousands of Afghan allies behind. It is not a capability problem, but a problem of will,’ Graham said.
‘The retaking of Bagram would put our military at risk, but I think those involved in the operation would gladly accept that risk because it would restore our honor as a nation and save lives.’
Lawmakers were briefed on the situation this week by Biden’s national security team.
Meanwhile, Democrat Foreign Affairs Committee chair Sen. Bob Menendez, said: ‘This is a full-fledged humanitarian crisis and US government personnel … must secure the airport.’
‘As we wait for more details to come in, one thing is clear: We can’t trust the Taliban with Americans’ security.’
House GOP leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy called on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring back the House so that lawmakers can be briefed on the situation.
‘Today’s attacks are horrific. My prayers go out to those who were injured and the families of those who were killed. I also continue to pray for the safety of our troops, the stranded American citizens, our allies and Afghan partners who remain in the area. Our enemies have taken advantage of the chaotic nature of the withdrawal,’ the California Republican said in a statement.
‘It is time for Congress to act quickly to save lives. Speaker Pelosi must bring Congress back into session before August 31 so that we can be briefed thoroughly and comprehensively by the Biden Administration and pass Representative Gallagher’s legislation prohibiting the withdrawal of our troops until every American is out of Afghanistan.’
Other lawmakers submitted an outpouring of prayers for American troops on the ground and Afghans on Twitter as they, along with the rest of the world, watch and wait to see how a series of attacks on Kabul airport unfold.
Still others demanded a forceful response and called for ‘resignations’ out of the White House. Some warned the worst could be yet to come.
Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., reupped a call for Biden to resign.
‘Biden Admin views abandoned people in Afghanistan as a political nuisance. Maybe looking at them as real people instead of ‘papers to push’ would produce rescues rather than deaths. It’s time for Biden to RESIGN NOW!!!’
‘Should Biden step down or be removed for his handling of Afghanistan? Yes,’ Nikki Haley, former ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted.
‘But that would leave us with Kamala Harris which would be ten times worse. God help us.’
Injured Afghans flee Kabul airport after a suicide bomber detonated an explosive outside the Baron Hotel, killing multiple people and injuring at least three US troops
Scenes from the ground show injured Afghans being removed in wheelchairs.
Injured Afghans flee Kabul airport on Thursday night after two explosions and gunfire ripped through crowds
Afghan people who want to leave the country continue to wait around Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 26, 2021
‘My biggest fear is these attacks today are just the beginning of what we will continue to see as the Administration fails to get Americans and our Afghan allies out and to safety,’ Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, wrote on Twitter. ‘We don’t need statements from the Administration right now – we need immediate resignations.’
‘At what point does Afghanistan turn from ‘Biden’s Saigon’ to ‘Biden’s Tehran Moment?” questioned Rep. Ralph Norman, R-SC. The Iran hostage crisis from 1979-1981 was considered a major failure and contributor to President Jimmy Carter’s loss in his reelection bid.
‘President @JoeBiden- you had one job. That job continues and American lives & security depend on it. Act like it,’ Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, wrote on Twitter.
Despite the escalating violence, the US’s top diplomat made the astonishing claim on Thursday morning, before the explosion, that it was ‘relatively safe’ on the ground and people should still be able to make their way there.
There is still no indication of when Biden may speak.
A White House official told DailyMail.com on Thursday: ‘The President met with his national security team this morning, including Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, Chairman Milley, and commanders on the ground.
‘He will continue to be briefed on updates on the evolving situation throughout the day.
‘There will be updates to the President’s schedule, which we will share as they become available.’
Earlier on Thursday, US troops on the ground closed gates at the airport and the State Department warned people not to congregate at the airport. Britain told its citizens to run for the Pakistan border instead.
The Taliban claimed Kabul on August 14 and there has been a frantic scramble to get Western citizens and Afghan allies out of the region by August 31, the Taliban’s ceasefire deadline.
Full transcript of Joe Biden’s statement of Kabul suicide bombing and answers he gave to reporters’ questions
By Melissa Koenig for DailyMail.com
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Been a tough day. This evening in Kabul, as you all know, terrorists attacked – that we’ve been talking about and worried about, that the intelligence community has assessed [was] undertaken – an attack – by a group known as ISIS-K – took the lives of American service members standing guard at the airport, and wounded several others seriously.
They also wounded a number of civilians, and civilians were killed as well.
I’ve been engaged all day, and in constant contact with the military commanders here in Washington, the Pentagon, as well as in Afghanistan and Doha. And my commanders here in Washington and in the field have been on this with great detail, and you’ve had a chance to speak to some, so far.
The situation on the ground is still evolving, and I’m constantly being updated.
These American service members who gave their lives – it’s an overused word, but it’s totally appropriate – they were heroes. Heroes who have been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others.
They were part of an airlift, an evacuation effort unlike any seen in history, with more than 100,000 American citizens, American partners, Afghans who helped us, and others taken to safety in the last 11 days. Just in the last 12 hours or so, another 7,000 have gotten out.
They were part of the bravest, most capable, and the most selfless military on the face of the Earth. And they were part of, simply, what I call the ‘backbone of America.’ They’re the spine of America, the best the country has to offer.
Jill and I – our hearts ache, like I’m sure all of you do as well, for all those Afghan families who have lost loved ones, including small children, or been wounded in this vicious attack. And we’re outraged as well as heartbroken.
Being the father of an Army major who served for a year in Iraq and, before that, was in Kosovo as a U.S. attorney for the better part of six months in the middle of a war – when he came home after a year in Iraq, he was diagnosed, like many, many coming home, with an aggressive and lethal cancer of the brain – who we lost.
We have some sense, like many of you do, what the families of these brave heroes are feeling today. You get this feeling like you’re being sucked into a black hole in the middle of your chest; there’s no way out. My heart aches for you.
But I know this: We have a continuing obligation, a sacred obligation to all of you – the families of those heroes. That obligation is not temporary; it lasts forever.
The lives we lost today were lives given in the service of liberty, the service of security, in the service of others, in the service of America. Like their fellow brothers and sisters in arms who died defending our vision and our values in the struggle against terrorism of – the fallen this day, they’re part of a great and noble company of American heroes.
To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay. I will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command.
Over the past few weeks – I know you’re – many of you are probably tired of hearing me say it – we’ve been made aware by our intelligence community that the ISIS-K – an arch-enemy of the Taliban; people who were freed when both those prisons were opened – has been planning a complex set of attacks on the United States personnel and others.
This is why, from the outset, I’ve repeatedly said this mission was extraordinarily dangerous and why I have been so determined to limit the duration of this mission. And as General McKenzie said, this is why our mission was designed — this is the way it was designed to operate: operate under severe stress and attack. We’ve known that from the beginning.
And as I’ve been in constant contact with our senior military leaders – and I mean constant, around the clock – and our commanders on the ground and throughout the day, they made it clear that we can and we must complete this mission, and we will.
And that’s what I’ve ordered them to do. We will not be deterred by terrorists. We will not let them stop our mission. We will continue the evacuation.
I’ve also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership, and facilities. We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose, and the moment of our choosing. Here is what you need to know: These ISIS terrorists will not win. We will rescue the Americans who are there. We will get out our Afghan allies out, and our mission will go on. America will not be intimidated.
I have the utmost confidence in our brave service members who continue to execute this mission with courage and honor to save lives and get Americans, our partners, our Afghan allies out of Afghanistan. Every day when I talk to our commanders, I ask them what they need – what more do they need, if anything, to get the job done. As they will tell you, I granted every request. I reiterated to them again today, on three occasions, that they should take the maximum steps necessary to protect our forces on the ground in Kabul.
And I also want to thank the Secretary of Defense and the military leadership at the Pentagon, and all the commanders in the field. There has been complete unanimity from every commander on the objectives of this mission and the best way to achieve those objectives.
Those who have served through the ages have drawn inspiration from the Book of Isaiah, when the Lord says, ‘Whom shall I send…who shall go for us?’ And the American military has been answering for a long time: ‘Here am I, Lord. Send me.’ ‘Here I am. Send me.’ Each one of these women and men of our armed forces are the heirs of that tradition of sacrifice of volunteering to go into harm’s way, to risk everything – not for glory, not for profit, but to defend what we love and the people we love.
And I ask that you join me now in a moment of silence for all those in uniform and out uniform – military and civilian, who have given the last full measure of devotion.
(A moment of silence is taken.)
BIDEN: Thank you. May God bless you all. And may God protect those troops and all those standing watch for America. We have so much to do. It’s within our capacity to do it. We just have to remain steadfast. Steadfast. We will complete our mission. And we will continue, after our troops have withdrawn, to find means by which we defined any American who wishes to get out of Afghanistan. We will find them and we will get them out.
Ladies and gentlemen, they gave me a list here. The first person I was instructed to call on was Kelly O’Donnell of NBC.
QUESTION: Mr. President, you have said leaving Afghanistan is in the national interest of the United States. After today’s attack, do you believe you will authorize additional forces to respond to that attack inside Afghanistan? And are you – are you prepared to add additional forces to protect those Americans who remain on the ground carrying out the evacuation operation?
BIDEN: I’ve instructed the military, whatever they need – if they need additional force – I will grant it.
But the military – from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Joint Chiefs, the commanders in the field – have all contacted me one way or another, usually by letter, saying they subscribe to the mission as designed to get as many people out as we can within the timeframe that is allotted.
That is the best way, they believe, to get as many Americans out as possible, and others. And with regard to finding, tracking down the ISIS leaders who ordered this, we have some reason to believe we know who they are – not certain – and we will find ways of our choosing, without large military operations, to get them.
O’DONNELL: Inside Afghanistan, Mr. President?
BIDEN: Wherever they are. Trevor from Reuters.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. There has been some criticism, even from people in your party, about the dependence on the Taliban to secure the perimeter of the airport. Do you feel like there was a mistake made in that regard?
BIDEN: No, I don’t. Look, I think General McKenzie handled this question very well. The fact is that we’re in a situation – we inherited a situation, particularly since, as we all know, that the Afghan military collapsed 11 days before – in 11 days – that it is in the interest of, as Mackenzie said, in the interest of the Taliban that, in fact, ISIS-K does not metastasize beyond what it is, number one. And number two, it’s in their interest that we are able to leave on time, on target.
As a consequence of that, the major things we’ve asked them – moving back the perimeter; give me more space between the wall; stopping vehicles from coming through, et cetera; searching people coming through – it is not what you’d call a tightly commanded, regimented operation like the U.S. is – the military is – but they’re acting in their interest — their interest.
And so, by and large – and I’ve asked this same question to military on the ground, whether or not it’s a useful exercise. No one trusts them; we’re just counting on their self-interest to continue to generate their activities.
And it’s in their self-interest that we leave when we said and that we get as many people out as we can. And like I said, even in the midst of everything that happened today, over 7,000 people have gotten out; over 5,000 Americans overall.
So, it’s not a matter of trust, it’s a matter of mutual self-interest. And – but there is no evidence thus far that I’ve been given, as a consequence by any of our commanders in the field, that there has been collusion between the Taliban and ISIS in carrying out what happened today both in front of the hotel and what is expected to continue for – beyond today. Aamer, Associated Press.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. You have spoken again powerfully about your own son and the weight of these decisions. With that in mind – and also what you’ve said: that the longer we stay, the more likelihood that there would be a major attack – how do you weigh staying even one more day, considering what’s happened?
BIDEN: Because I think what America says matters. What we say we’re going to do and the context in which we say we’re going to do it, that we do it – unless something exceptional changes.
There are additional American citizens, there are additional green card holders, there are additional personnel of our allies, there are additional SIV card holders, there are additional Afghans that have helped us, and there are additional groups of individuals that have contacted us from women’s groups, to NGOs, and others, who have expressly indicated they want to get out and have gathered in certain circumstances in groups, on buses and other means, that still presents the opportunity for the next several days, between now and the 31st, to be able to get them out. And our military – and, I believe, to the extent that we can do that knowing the threat, knowing that we may very well have another attack – the military has concluded that’s what we should do. I think they’re right. I think they’re correct.
And after that, we’re going to be in a circumstance where there are – will be, I believe, numerous opportunities to continue to provide access for additional persons to get out of Afghanistan, either through means that we provide and/or are provided through cooperation with the Taliban.
They’re not good guys, the Taliban. I’m not suggesting that at all. But they have a keen interest.
As many of you have been reporting, they very much would like to figure out how to keep the airport open. They don’t have the capacity to do it. They very much are trying to figure out whether or not they can maintain what is the portion of an economy that has become not robust, but fundamentally different than it had been.
And so there’s a lot of reasons why they have reached out not just to us, but to others, as to why it would be continued in their interest to get more of the personnel we want to get out. We can locate them. Now, there’s not many left that we can assess that are – want to come out. There’s some Americans we’ve identified – we’ve contacted the vast majority of them, if not all of them – who don’t want to leave because they have sig- — they’re dual nationals, they have extended families, et cetera. And there’s others who are looking for the time. So, that’s why we continue.
I’ll take a few more questions, and – but, you, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
BIDEN: I didn’t pick you, but that’s okay.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you – you say that ‘what America says matters.’ What do you say to the Afghans who helped troops, who may not be able to get out by August 31st? What –
BIDEN: I say –
QUESTION: What do you say to them?
BIDEN: – we’re going to continue to try to get you out. It matters. Look, I know of no conflict, as a student of history – no conflict where, when a war was ending, one side was able to guarantee that everyone that wanted to be extracted from that country would get out.
And think about it, folks. I think it’s important for – I know the American people get this in their gut. There are, I would argue, millions of Afghani citizens who are not Taliban; who did not actively cooperate with us as SIVs; who, if given a chance, they’d be onboard a plane tomorrow.
It sounds ridiculous, but the vast majority of people in communities like that want to come to America, given a choice. So, getting every single person out is – can’t be guaranteed to anybody because there’s a determination, all who wants to get out as well. At any rate, it’s a process. I was really pointing to you, but – you, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. There are reports that U.S. officials provided the Taliban with names of Americans and Afghan officials to evacuate. Were you aware of that? Did that happen? And then, sir, did you personally reject a recommendation to hold, or to recapture Bagram Air Force Base?
BIDEN: Here’s what I’ve done on the – ask this – I’ll answer the last question, first. On the tactical questions of how to conduct an evacuation or a war, I gather up all the major military personnel that are in Afghanistan – the commanders, as well as the Pentagon. And I ask for their best military judgment: what would be the most efficient way to accomplish the mission. They concluded – the military – that Bagram was not much value added, that it was much wiser to focus on Kabul. And so, I followed that recommendation.
With regard to– there are certain circumstances where we’ve gotten information – and quite frankly, sometimes from some of you – saying, ‘You know of such and such a group of people who are trying to get out and they’re on a bus, they’re moving…’ – from other people – ‘and this is their location.’ And there have been occasions when our military has contacted their military counterparts in the Taliban and said, ‘This…’ — for example, ‘This bus is coming through with X number of people on it, made up of the following group of people. We want you to let that bus or that group through.’ So, yes, there have been occasions like that. And to the best of my knowledge, in those cases, the bulk of that has occurred — they’ve been let through.
But I can’t tell you with any certitude that there’s actually been a list of names. I don’t – there may have been, but I know of no circumstance. It doesn’t mean it’s not – it didn’t exist, that, ‘Here’s the names of 12 people; they’re coming. Let them through.’ It could very well have happened. I’ll take one more question.
QUESTION: Mr. President, can I –
QUESTION: Mr. President, right here. Mr. President –
BIDEN: Whoa. Wait, wait, wait. Let me take the one question from the most interesting guy that I know in the press.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Is that – is there -thank you.
BIDEN: That’s you.
QUESTION: Mr. President, there had not been a U.S. service member killed in combat in Afghanistan since February of 2020. You set a deadline. You pulled troops out. You sent troops back in. And now 12 Marines are dead. You said the buck stops with you. Do you bear any responsibility for the way that things have unfolded in the last two weeks?
BIDEN: I bear responsibility for, fundamentally, all that’s happened of late.
But here’s the deal: You know – I wish you’d one day say these things – you know as well as I do that the former President made a deal with the Taliban that he would get all American forces out of Afghanistan by May 1. In return, the commitment was made – and that was a year before – in return, he was given a commitment that the Taliban would continue to attack others, but would not attack any American forces. Remember that? I’m being serious.
QUESTION: Mr. President –
BIDEN: No, I – I’m asking you a question. Be a – because before I –
QUESTION: Donald Trump is not the President right now.
BIDEN: No, no – now wait a minute. I’m asking you a question. Is that – is that accurate, to the best of your knowledge?
QUESTION: I know what you’re talking about. But, Mr. President, respectfully –
QUESTION: Since -I don’t think that the issue that — do you think that people have an issue with pulling out of Afghanistan, or just the way that things have happened?
BIDEN: I think they have an issue that people are likely to get hurt – some, as we’ve seen, have gotten killed – and that it is messy. The reason why – whether my friend will acknowledge it and was – reported it – the reason why there were no attacks on Americans, as you said, from the date until I came into office, was because the commitment was made by President Trump: ‘I will be out by May 1st. In the meantime, you agree not to attack any Americans.’ That was the deal. That’s why no American was attacked.
QUESTION: And you said that you still – a few days ago, you said you squarely stand by your decision to pull out.
BIDEN: Yes, I do. Because look at it this way, folks – and I’m going to – I have another meeting, for real. But imagine where we’d be if I had indicated, on May the 1st, I was not going to renegotiate an evacuation date; we were going to stay there. I’d have only one alternative: Pour thousands of more troops back into Afghanistan to fight a war that we had already won, relative – is why the reason we went in the first place.
I have never been of the view that we should be sacrificing American lives to try to establish a democratic government in Afghanistan – a country that has never once in its entire history been a united country, and is made up – and I don’t mean this in a derogatory – made up of different tribes who have never, ever, ever gotten along with one another.
And so, as I said before – and this is the last comment I’ll make, but we’ll have more chance to talk about this, unfortunately, beyond, because we’re not out yet – if Osama bin Laden, as well as al Qaeda, had chosen to launch an attack – when they left Saudi Arabia – out of Yemen, would we have ever gone to Afghanistan? Even though the Taliban completely controlled Afghanistan at the time, would we have ever gone?
I know it’s not fair to ask you questions. It’s rhetorical. But raise your hand if you think we should have gone and given up thousands of lives and tens of thousands of wounded.
Our interest in going was to prevent al Qaeda from reemerging – first to get bin Laden, wipe out al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and prevent that from happening again.
As I’ve said 100 times: Terrorism has metastasized around the world; we have greater threats coming out of other countries a heck of a lot closer to the United States. We don’t have military encampments there; we don’t keep people there. We have over-the-horizon capability to keep them from going after us.
Ladies and gentlemen, it was time to end a 20-year war. Thank you so much.