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As The Taliban Made Their Way To Kabul, Biden Ordered Troops Into Afghanistan

U.S. soldiers stand guard as Afghans wait Monday at the Kabul airport following the swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war.
Wakil Kohsar
U.S. soldiers stand guard as Afghans wait Monday at the Kabul airport following the swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war.

President Biden gave the order last Thursday to send U.S. troops into Afghanistan as it became clear that the Taliban were overrunning Afghan government forces on their way to taking Kabul.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Tuesday that as administration officials watched the situation unfold, the decision was made to supplement the first contingent of some 3,000 troops with some 3,000 more. Sullivan's briefing was the first from the White House since Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, fell to the Taliban on Sunday.

Critics have charged the president was cloistered in Camp David as the situation in Afghanistan quickly deteriorated, but Sullivan said Biden "has been deeply engaged in this." Biden returned briefly to the White House on Monday to address the nation about Afghanistan, and he plans to leave Camp David again for Washington on Tuesday evening.

Sullivan said the president met with his national security team the night of Aug. 11, posing the question "as to whether we had to flow more forces in" as well as to draw down personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and secure the evacuation; Biden ordered the action the following morning.

Military cargo planes will leave Afghanistan holding 300 passengers each

Sullivan said that while some early evacuation flights have left Kabul with empty seats, he said that "we will be putting 300 passengers on your average military cargo plane" in subsequent flights.

He said there have been reports of some people being turned away from the Kabul airport and that the U.S. has taken that issue up in talks with the Taliban officials. He said that people have been getting through the airport gate and placed on planes but that it's "an hour-by-hour issue."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force is looking into a situation Monday at the Kabul airport that resulted in the death of multiple Afghan civilians, according to The Associated Press. Hundreds of civilians, desperate to leave the country, surrounded a C-17 cargo plane that was taxiing after landing. It then quickly took off again. Videos on social media showed people falling off the plane as it gained altitude.

Evacuees crowd the interior of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, carrying some 640 Afghans to Qatar from Kabul on Sunday.
Defense One / Reuters
Evacuees crowd the interior of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, carrying some 640 Afghans to Qatar from Kabul on Sunday.

Biden faced a tough choice over Blackhawk military helicopters

Sullivan said the Taliban's capture of U.S.-made Blackhawk military helicopters was an example of the difficult choices Biden faced "in the context of the end of a 20-year war." Then-Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had requested additional air capability for Afghan forces at a White House meeting with Biden on June 25.

Sullivan outlined what Biden was facing. "He could not give it to them [with] the risk that it could fall into the Taliban's hands eventually. Or he could give it to them with the hope that they could deploy it in service of defending their country."

Sullivan said both options had risks. "He had to choose," Sullivan said of Biden, "and he made a choice." And Biden, he said, made the right decision.

Sullivan acknowledged that other U.S.-supplied weaponry was also now in the Taliban's control.

"We don't have a complete picture, obviously, of where every article of defense materials has gone, but certainly a fair amount of it has fallen into the hands of the Taliban," he said, adding, "We don't have a sense that they are going to readily hand it over to us at the airport."

Under repeated questioning, Sullivan refused to guarantee that all Americans who wish to leave Afghanistan will be able to do so by the Aug. 31 deadline the administration set for ending the evacuation mission.

The administration is planning a "hot wash" review of what happened

Sullivan said that at some point the administration will conduct a so-called hot wash review of what happened. It won't be a "what went wrong review."

"We'll look at everything that happened in this entire operation from start to finish, and the areas of improvement, where we could do better," he said. He pledged to make the results public, but that for now he said officials are focused on the mission at hand of "getting these people out."

Sullivan did not directly respond to a question of whether the U.S. considered the Taliban the legitimate governing power in Afghanistan.

"Right now, there is a chaotic situation in Kabul where we don't even have the establishment of a governing authority," he said. Ultimately, Sullivan said, "it's going to be up to the Taliban to show the rest of the world who they are and how they intend to proceed. The track record has not been good."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.