Secretary of State Antony Blinken struggled on Sunday to explain President Biden’s contradictory statements about Afghanistan, including the threat posed by al Qaeda and the support of America’s allies abroad.
“Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace grilled the US’s top diplomat on the president’s claim on Friday that the terror group was “gone” from Afghanistan.
“Al Qaeda’s capacity to do what it did on 9/11, to attack us, to attack our partners, our allies from Afghanistan is vastly, vastly diminished,” Blinken explained.
“Are there al Qaeda members and remnants in Afghanistan? Yes, but what the president was referring to was its capacity to do what it did on 9/11, and that capacity has been successfully diminished.”
Wallace then pointed out that the United Nations said the terror group is present in 15 of the 34 Afghanistan provinces and that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said he would have to upgrade the terror threat to the US from al Qaeda.
“We went to Afghanistan 20 years ago with one mission and one purpose in mind, that was to deal with the folks who attacked us on 9/11, to bring [Osama] Bin Laden to justice, which we did a decade ago, and to diminish the capacity of al Qaeda to do the same thing again, to attack us from Afghanistan. And that, to the president’s point, has been successful. We got bin Laden a decade ago,” Blinken said.
Wallace also grilled the secretary of state on Biden’s claims that allies have not criticized his administration for the chaotic evacuation of American citizens and Afghans at Hamid Karzai International Airport, an effort that has left thousands stranded or in danger as they pass through Taliban checkpoints in the streets.
Wallace pointed out criticism from Armin Laschet, the likely successor to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who called Biden’s handling of the evacuation a “debacle” and questioned Blinken about whether the president is aware of the global response to his actions.
“Chris, all I can tell you is what I’ve heard. And again, this is a powerful, emotional time for a lot of allies and partners, as it is for me, as it is for us,” Blinken responded. “But I’ve also heard of this, I’ve heard across the board, deep appreciation and thanks from allies and partners for everything that we’ve done to bring our allies and partners out of harm’s way.”
Wallace also pressed Blinken on Biden’s comments that the Taliban is allowing Americans through the checkpoints despite an alert from the US Embassy in Kabul to avoid traveling to the airport unless directed by a US government official to do so.
“Crowds have massed at the gates outside the airport. It’s an incredibly volatile situation, it’s an incredibly fluid situation. We’ve seen wrenching images of people hurt, even killed that hit you in the gut,” Blinken said.
“And it’s very important to make sure to the best of our ability, because it’s such a volatile situation, that we do something about the crowding at the gates of the airport, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” he said.
“First, the more we move people out of the airport who are already in, the more we alleviate what has been overcrowding inside the airport, the more we can get people inside the airport and reduce some of the crowding at the gates. But second and most important, we’re in direct contact with Americans and others to help guide them to the airport, right place, right time, to get in more safely and effectively,” he added.
Blinken said he has been talking with NATO partners since before and after the decision to withdraw.
“We’ve been working very, very closely together,” he said, adding that the administration has also gotten the G-7 nations and the US Security Council together to address Afghanistan.