In his first remarks to the press on Thursday after ISIS suicide bombers detonated explosives at the Kabul airport, which killed 13 U.S. troops, President Joe Biden said trusting the Taliban throughout the U.S. evacuation operation in Afghanistan was not a mistake.
While ISIS has claimed responsibility for the bombings, the Taliban’s numerous checkpoints around the Kabul airport have slowed efforts for people to get through to their evacuation flights.
Americans and Afghan allies have had to make their way through both large crowds of Afghan civilians and a network of Taliban checkpoints surrounding the Kabul airport, in order to get on flights out of the country. In some cases, the State Department has warned travelers that their safety cannot be assured as they attempt to reach the airport. Defense officials have also said that, rather than sending U.S. troops beyond the Kabul airport perimeter, they are mostly relying on assurances from the Taliban that U.S. passport holders will be allowed through.
During the Thursday White House press conference a reporter said, “There’s 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 responded, “No, I don’t.”
“I think Gen. [Kenneth] McKenzie handled this question very well,” Biden added. “The fact is that we’re in a situation, we inherited a situation, particularly since as we all know the Afghan military collapsed in 11 days. It is in the interests of, as McKenzie said, in the interests of the Taliban that in fact ISIS-K does not metastasize.”
Biden said it has also been in the interests of the Taliban to ensure U.S. forces are able to leave Afghanistan by Biden’s August 31 withdrawal deadline.
“The major things we’ve asked [the Taliban] — moving back the perimeter, giving 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,” Biden said. “But they’re acting in their interests.”
Biden added that no one trusts the Taliban, “We’re just counting on their self-interests to continue to generate their activities. And it’s in their self-interests that we leave when we said and that we get as many people out as we can.”
Biden has also said military commanders have said they’ve seen no signs of collusion between the Taliban and ISIS.
As Kabul fell to the Taliban on August 15, Business Insider reported Taliban fighters opened up the cells at the Pul-e-Charki prison, which houses around 5,000 inmates, including Al Qaeda and ISIS fighters.
On Thursday, the Associated Press reported the Islamic State’s Afghan branch, known as ISIS-Khorasan or ISIS-K, has seen its ranks bolstered after the Taliban freed thousands of prisoners during their takeover of Afghanistan.
In addition to the 13 U.S. service members killed in the Thursday bombing attacks, another 18 U.S. service members were injured.
Those U.S. service members were among up to 60 people who were believed killed and another 120 people who were reported wounded on Thursday.