Fox News anchor Chris Wallace grilled Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday over President Biden’s claims about the crisis in Afghanistan, repeatedly calling the commander in chief’s statements ”flat wrong.”
“The president said al-Qaida is gone. It’s not gone,” Wallace said at one point. “The president said he’s not heard any criticism from the allies. There’s been a lot of criticism from the allies. Words matter, and the words from the president matter most.”
In a Friday speech, President Biden defended the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the effort to withdraw thousands of Americans after the fall of the government to Taliban forces. But multiple fact-checkers also noted that Biden made several inaccurate or misleading claims, including referring to al-Qaida as “gone” from Afghanistan.
“What interest do we have in Afghanistan, at this point, with al-Qaida gone?” Biden said Friday, speaking from the East Room at the White House. “We went to Afghanistan for the express purpose of getting rid of al-Qaida in Afghanistan as well as getting Osama bin Laden, and we did.”
Although al-Qaida has been significantly reduced since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan two decades ago, elements of the terrorist group continue to exist in parts of the country. Wallace cited a United Nations Security Council report in June that estimated that adherents of al-Qaida remain in 15 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Shortly after Biden made the comments, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters: “We know that al-Qaida is a presence, as well as ISIS, in Afghanistan, and we’ve talked about that for quite some time.”
“What the president said just wasn’t true,” Wallace told Blinken during the “Fox News Sunday” interview.
Blinken responded by referring Wallace to the “successful” original mission in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
“We went to Afghanistan 20 years ago with one mission, and one purpose, in mind,” he said. “And that was to deal with the folks who attacked us on 9/11, to bring bin Laden to justice, which we did a decade ago, and to diminish the capacity of al-Qaida to do the same thing again, to attack us from Afghanistan.”
Wallace interjected: “Sir, the president said al-Qaida is ‘gone.’ Simple question: Is al-Qaida gone from Afghanistan?”
Blinken reiterated that al-Qaida’s capacity in Afghanistan is “vastly, vastly diminished,” prompting Wallace to ask him a third time about whether the terrorist group was “gone.” Blinken replied that it was not fully gone, but argued that this was not Biden’s original point.
“Are there al-Qaida members or elements in Afghanistan? Yes. But what the president was referring to was its capacity to do what it did on 9/11. And that capacity has been very successfully diminished,” he said.
Wallace then moved on to what he labeled as Biden's “flat wrong” claim on Friday that he had “seen no question of our credibility from our allies around the world.”
Some allied government officials have sharply criticized how the U.S. has handled its withdrawal from Afghanistan. Armin Laschet, a leading candidate to succeed German Chancellor Angela Merkel, called the situation “the biggest debacle that NATO has seen since its foundation.” The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the German parliament told Politico that the crisis did “fundamental damage to the political and moral credibility of the West.” And the chair of the British Foreign Affairs Committee tweeted, “Afghanistan is the biggest foreign policy disaster since Suez. ... In Kabul we’ve failed our friends and ourselves.”
“Mr. Secretary, does the president not know what’s going on?” Wallace asked.
Blinken countered that the strong consensus from U.S. allies is an appreciation for how the U.S. has handled the collapse of the government in Kabul.
“Chris, all I can tell you is what I’ve heard,” the secretary of state said. “And again, this is a powerfully emotional time for a lot of allies and partners — as it is for me, as it is for us. But I’ve also heard this: I’ve heard, across the board, deep appreciation and thanks from allies and partners for everything we’ve done to bring allies and partners out of harm’s way.”
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