WASHINGTON — White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Friday downplayed criticism of President Biden’s botched Afghanistan exit strategy, including from Democrats in Congress, saying it’s “easy to throw stones.”
Psaki also said Biden intends to kill the suspected Islamic State terrorists involved in the Kabul airport bombing that killed 13 US troops on Thursday.
“He does not want them to live on the Earth anymore,” she said at her daily press briefing.
Psaki said Biden won’t ask any generals to resign for the messy withdrawal while pushing back on fellow Democrats who faulted the planning to remove US troops by Aug. 31.
“I don’t have any direct response to any member of Congress, but what I will say is that it is easy to throw stones or be a critic from the outside. It is harder to be in the arena and make difficult decisions,” Psaki said.
Psaki was asked specifically about Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) saying that evacuations were “egregiously mishandled” and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) saying that “even if you completely agree with the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw, the way they have handled this has been a total f—ing disaster.”
The final US departure on Tuesday is expected to leave behind thousands of Afghans who worked for the US government along with an unknown number of stranded US citizens.
New York Times reporter Michael Shear and Psaki exchanged in an extended dialog after the journalist objected to “this idea that there were only two choices” between remaining in Afghanistan and hastily evacuating from Kabul’s airport.
“What evidence do you have that there weren’t other choices that could have been made?” he said.
“What’s the other choice anyone is offering?” Psaki asked the reporter back.
Shear proposed that the evacuation could have started in May so that Kabul wouldn’t have been overrun by the Taliban, as it was last week.
“How do you know that?” Psaki said.
“Well, the Taliban wasn’t near Kabul at that point,” Shear matter-of-factly pointed out.
“Look, Mike, I think it’s easy to play backseat [drive],” she said, adding: “no one anticipated, I think including on the outside, that the Afghan government would have fallen at the pace they fell.”
Psaki was asked by NPR reporter Ayesha Rascoe if “the US [is] guaranteeing that you will be able to get out” to “people who will still be on the ground” after Aug. 31 including Afghans who worked for the US.
“I don’t think we can guarantee, but what we can do is work toward — and this is what the president directed the Secretary of State to continue diplomatic efforts with international partners to secure means for third country nationals, Afghans with visas who may be eligible for programs, of course any American citizen who remains in country to leave the country even after its military presence ends,” Psaki said.
In a seemingly conflicting statement, Biden on Thursday evening said any American who wanted to leave the country after Aug. 31 would be able to do so, without specifying how.
“We will continue after our troops have withdrawn to find means by which we could find any American who wishes to get out of Afghanistan. We will find them and we will get them out,” Biden said.
But when pressed on the apparent contradiction by saying there was no guarantee of departures after Aug. 31, Psaki said that the “I think the question was actually about, individuals who are still there because they don’t — they’re not prepared to leave or other Afghans or others who may want to depart.”