Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Sunday that intelligence assessments of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan predicted the Taliban could retake the country in a matter of months, appearing to contradict President Biden’s assurances last month that a takeover Taliban control was not inevitable.
In an interview with ABC News’ Martha Raddatz at the Pentagon, Austin said that “no one” in the intelligence community predicted that the Afghan government would fall to the Taliban as quickly as it did.
AFGHANISTAN BLAME GAME STEPS UP LIKE THE WHITE HOUSE, THE PENTAGON AND INTEL FINGERS
“There were assessments that initially ranged from one to two years to, you know, several months,” he said. “But that was a wide range of assessments. And as the Taliban started to make gains, and we saw that in a number of cases there was less fighting and more surrenders and more forces just evaporating, it was very difficult to predict accurately.
“All of this happened in the space of about 11 days,” he added. “No one predicted that, you know, the government would fall in 11 days.”
Asked by Raddatz if he thought the planning for the army’s withdrawal from the area was “acceptable and appropriate,” Austin replied, “I think so, based on what we are looking at.”
“Like everyone else, the president listened to our contribution,” he said. “Again, he went through a very careful and thoughtful process and he made a decision. And I support that decision.”
Austin’s comments on the intelligence contrast with what Biden said on July 8 that a Taliban takeover was not likely and that he trusted “the capacity of the Afghan army “.
Faced with a reporter who said: “Your own intelligence community felt that the Afghan government would likely collapse,” Biden retaliated at the time, saying: “This is not true.”
“They did not come to that conclusion,” the president said. “The Afghan government and the leadership must unite. They clearly have the capacity to keep the government in place. The question is: will they generate the kind of cohesion to do so? It’s not about whether they have the capacity. They have the ability. “
“There is no conclusion that, in fact, they cannot defeat the Taliban,” he added.
When asked directly at the time whether a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was “inevitable”, Biden replied: “No, it is not.”
Biden spoke from the White House on Monday, saying that the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan 20 years after their ouster by US-led forces “has gone faster than we expected. “, But that he still stood” squarely behind “his decision to withdraw his troops.
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The president said towards the end of his speech that “the responsibility ends” with him, but not before accusing his predecessor, former President Trump, of negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban that required the current president to choose between “escalating the conflict and returning thousands of American troops to Afghanistan.”
Biden also singled out the Afghan army for its lack of “will to fight” for its future. And he said the slow evacuation of Afghan allies from the United States was in part due to the fact that “some Afghans did not want to leave sooner – still hopeful for their country.”
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