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Biden Said The U.S. Withdrawal From Afghanistan Would Be Safe. Then Chaos Ensued


President Biden said the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would be, quote, "responsible, deliberate and safe." He did not seem to anticipate the speed with which Afghan forces would collapse. Here's the president on July 8.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The jury is still out. But the likelihood there's going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.

SIMON: Well, we've been hearing a month later that appears to be exactly what is happening. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez joins us. Franco, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: And what is the latest on what the U.S. government is doing or trying to do?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, what I can tell you is the first group of U.S. forces arrived in Kabul yesterday. But the bulk of the 3,000 troops going will get there by the end of the weekend to help evacuate most of the American embassy and Afghan civilians who supported the U.S. Basically, there is increased concern of the government in Kabul collapsing. The Taliban has now taken over two-thirds of the country. And Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said there is no question that the Taliban is trying the same tactics it used to isolate and take control over other provincial capitals now on Kabul.

SIMON: And, of course, we always have to ask about the political impact. The president is being widely criticized by Republicans and not just Republicans. Any sign that it might be rethinking its plans?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, some plans are changing. The Biden administration would not be sending even a temporary military force in if it was confident that the Afghans had a handle on some security. But it's very unlikely that the United States is going to return to combat operations. As one former ambassador for Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, told me, you can't rewind this film. It's an entirely different Taliban, much stronger, and they're feeding off the momentum. Could the United States go back? Yes, and there really is no question about the outcome against a U.S. military. But Crocker says the costs, the likelihood of human casualties is not something that Biden or, frankly, the American people is ready for at this point.

RYAN CROCKER: It would destroy his presidency not least because they would have to fight their way back in, and they would clearly take casualties doing it.

ORDOÑEZ: And recent polls show that the American public largely supports Biden here in withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

SIMON: What about the argument we've heard advanced in recent days by critics that the U.S. could have kept a smaller force of at least a few thousand in country to try and stabilize the country as it withdrew?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, the Biden administration is probably pushing back against that one the hardest. They say it's a false argument and that there's no way that 2,500 or 3,000 U.S. troops could have done what, obviously, the Afghan army of 300,000 couldn't do. There's also the view that, after 20 years, nothing much more could be done. Ivo Daalder, who served as a U.S. ambassador to NATO, says that the United States has already invested trillions of dollars into the training and resources trying to build Afghan security forces so it could defend the country.

IVO DAALDER: For his critics who say, oh, if we had just stayed a little longer, we would have avoided the situation - if you weren't able to do what needed to be done in 20 years, why do you think 21 or 22 years would have done the trick?

ORDOÑEZ: But others argue that the crisis was avoidable and that the United States is running out on the people of Afghanistan. Of course, the administration says they're doing everything they can to help Afghans. That said, for much of the other over 30 million Afghans, their future might rest more in the hands of the Taliban.

SIMON: NPR's Franco Ordoñez, thanks so much for being with us.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.