Biden v. Reality: President falsely stated the US has no troops in Syria - when there are 900 - and the Afghan military had 300,000 troops in a series of lies and bungled statements in ABC interview

 In his first interview since the Taliban's lightning-fast takeover of Kabul, President Biden, sitting down with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, attempted to his explain his administration's decision to stay the course on Afghanistan withdrawal, at times backing up his point with outright falsehoods.  

Here are six moments Biden made inaccurate statements during the Wednesday interview:  

Biden said there was 'no way' to leave Afghanistan without chaos ensuing, but six weeks ago he said a Taliban takeover was 'highly unlikely.'

Biden told Stephanopoulos that chaos in Kabul was always in the cards for an Afghanistan withdrawal, but just six weeks ago he said that a Taliban takeover was 'highly unlikely.'

'There's no way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don't know how that happens,' the president said in a Wednesday interview.  

In his July 8 briefing, Biden assured the press: 'It is not inevitable. The likelihood of the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.'   

And even though the president said mayhem was inevitable, he laid blame on Afghani forces unwilling to fight and President Ashraf Ghani who fled the country.

'When you had the government of Afghanistan, the leader of that government, get in a plane and taking off and going to another country; when you saw the significant collapse of the Afghan troops we had trained, up to 300,000 of them, just leaving their equipment and taking off - that was, you know, I'm not, that's what happened. That's simply what happened', he said. 

Biden said Afghan army is 300,000 strong, when the real number is 178,800.

 Biden, as noted above, said: 'When you saw the significant collapse of the Afghan troops we had trained, up to 300,000 of them...' He has used this number repeatedly.

But there are only 178,800 active duty forces - 171,500 in the army and 7,300 in the air force, according to an annual report viewed by the Washington Post. No reserve forces are listed for Afghanistan.

If Afghanistan actually had over 300,000 troops, its force would be bigger than every NATO ally except Turkey. 

The nation does have 99,000 members of the Afghan National Police, though police have separate duties from the military and do not fight insurgents. 

Biden said  US doesn't have a military presence in Syria, but 900 troops remain there.

The president told Stephanopoulos that al-Qaeda could build up a significant presence in Afghanistan sooner than the original intelligent assessment of 18 to 24 months, but the US should be more worried about the threat from al-Qaeda in Syria.

'Al Qaeda, ISIS, they metastasize. There's a significantly greater threat to the United States from Syria. There's a significantly greater threat from East Africa. There's significant greater threat to other places in the world than it is from the mountains of Afghanistan,' Biden said. 

'We have maintained the ability to have an over-the-horizon capability to take them out. We're-- we don't have military in Syria to make sure that we're gonna be protected--'  

The US does in fact have troops in Syria - 900 of them. Those troops are advising and supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces to fight the Islamic State, a role they have played since the US-led intervention in 2014.

Biden said he can't recall military officials suggesting he keep the 'stable' 2,500 troop presence in Afghanistan, though reports show Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley made exactly such a request. 

'Your top military advisers warned against withdrawing on this timeline – they wanted you to keep about 2,500 troops,' Stephanopoulos said to Biden.

'No, they didn't,' the president pushed back. 'It was split. That wasn't true. That wasn't true.'

'They didn't tell you they wanted troops to stay?' Stephanopoulos asked.

'No, not in terms of whether we were going to get out in a time frame – all troops, they didn't argue against that,' Biden reiterated.

The Wall Street Journal reported the president ignored Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley's request to keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan and did not yield Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's warning about the stability of the country without a U.S. troop presence. 

Stephanopoulos pressed the president on the report: 'Your military advisers did not tell you, 'No, we should just keep 2,500 troops, it's been a stable situation for the last several years, we can do that, we can continue to do that?'

'No, no one said that to me that I can recall,' Biden said. 

Biden argued that the recent stability was not due to the troop presence but due to a peace deal with the Taliban signed by President Trump promising US forces would leave, which Biden has said he was bound to honor.   

Milley did say on Wednesday intelligence had only predicted Kabul could fall to the Taliban in a matter of weeks, months or years, not days. 

'There's nothing that I or anyone saw indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days,' Milley said.
'This comes down to an issue of will and leadership. And no, I did not, nor did anyone else, see a collapse of an army of that size in 11 days.'

Douglas London, the CIA's former counter-terrorism chief for south and south-west Asia, offered a very different assessment on Thursday.

He said the rapid collapse was one of a number of possible scenarios.

'Ultimately, it was assessed, Afghan forces might capitulate under the circumstances we witnessed, in projections highlighted to Trump officials and future Biden officials alike,' he wrote on the Just Security website.

London, who also served as a volunteer adviser to the Biden campaign after leaving the CIA in 2019, scoffed at the president's claim that events in Afghanistan unfolded more rapidly than expected.

'That’s misleading at best,' he said. 'The CIA anticipated it as a possible scenario.' 

Biden said US has control of Kabul airport, though Taliban fighters have formed a wall around the airport and are controlling who goes in and out. 

'Now, granted, it took two days to take control of the airport. We have control of the airport now,' Biden told Stephanopoulos. 

Heart-wrenching scenes on Monday showed Afghanis desperate to flee throwing themselves in front of US aircraft taxiing down the runway. US service members fired shots killing at least two civilians in an effort to push the Afghans back behind airport walls to clear out Americans. 

And on Wednesday night US troops used teargas and fired shots into the air to control the increasingly desperate crowds of Afghans at the airport, while Taliban fighters blocked Westerners from getting to evacuation planes in a fifth day of chaos.

The Taliban appear to be tightening their grip, instituting checkpoints and stopping people from even getting to the airport, and there are no troops there on the ground to retrieve them because they are all at the airport defending it from a stampede of frightened natives. 

Thousands of Afghan civilians are attempting to climb the walls of the airport to be evacuated but are being shot and beaten by Taliban forces as US and western countries continue to fly rescue operations out of Kabul

Thousands of Afghan civilians are attempting to climb the walls of the airport to be evacuated but are being shot and beaten by Taliban forces as US and western countries continue to fly rescue operations out of Kabul


The Taliban has promised foreign governments that they will let through all Westerners and civilians who want to board flights, but even ABC journalists were blocked from getting to the airport on Thursday despite having paperwork proving who they were. 

Since Aug. 14, only 7,000 have been evacuated, though Biden said the US was trying to bring home 10,000-15,000 Americans and another 50,000-60,000 Afghanis, all by Aug. 31 - 12 days from now. 

Between Tuesday and Wednesday, US forces only removed 2,000 people on 18 jets that could have taken 10,000. 

Some on the ground called it a 'lottery' and described people with paperwork getting through but being turned away, while others without any ticket out are making their way onto planes through luck and force. 

On Wednesday, Afghan mothers who can't get through handed their babies over the wall to Western soldiers to be put on flights without them. American troops have been seen helping some women over the barbed wire, while shouting at others to stand back. 

Biden said 'no one is being killed' at Kabul airport, though the Taliban have killed at least 12. 

'But, look, b-- but no one's being killed right now, God forgive me if I'm wrong about that, but no one's being killed right now,' Biden told Stephanopoulos when the ABC anchor noted 'pandemonium' at the Kabul airport. 

There are at least 12 confirmed deaths in the chaotic scenes around the airport, according to Taliban and NATO officials. Those deaths included the two who were shot by the US military at the airfield and two who fell to their deaths from a US plane as it took off. 

Their deaths were caused by either gunshots or stampedes, a Taliban official told Reuters on Thursday. He told Afghans to go home if they didn't have the proper paperwork to leave, adding a veiled warning: 'We don't want to hurt anyone at the airport.' 

An Afghan woman is seen lying on the ground after the Taliban used whips and sharp objects to drive people from the airport

Biden said Afghani stowaways plunging to their death was 'four or five days ago,' - it was two days before the interview. 

'We've all seen the pictures. We've seen those hundreds of people packed into a C-17. You've seen Afghans falling –' Stephanopoulos said before being cut off by the president.

'That was four days ago, five days ago,' Biden quipped, seemingly brushing off harrowing footage that emerged on Monday of two Afghans falling to their deaths after clinging to the wheels of a US evacuation flight,

'What did you think when you first saw those pictures?'

'What I thought was we have to gain control of this,' he said. 'We have to move this more quickly. We have to move in a way in which we can take control of that airport. And we did.'

Two people are seen falling from a U.S. Air Force plane on Monday, having tried to jump on board as it was taxiing away from Kabul airport

Two people are seen falling from a U.S. Air Force plane on Monday, having tried to jump on board as it was taxiing away from Kabul airport

 

Biden, then and now: Six weeks ago, the president struck a very different tone on Afghanistan 

President Biden claimed in his interview on August 18 that chaos in Kabul was inevitable, but just six weeks ago at a White House briefing he said the Taliban takeover was 'NOT inevitable'.

On the Taliban

July 8: ‘The likelihood there's going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely... it is not inevitable'.

August 18: ‘The idea that somehow, there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don't know how that happens.’

On the Afghan army

July 8: ‘I trust the capacity of the Afghan military, who more competent [than the Taliban] in terms of conducting war.'

August 18: ‘When you saw the significant collapse of the Afghan troops we had trained, that was -- you know I'm not -- that's what happened.'

The Taliban swept to power in Afghanistan in less than two weeks after they took their first provincial capital.


On the evacuation

July 8: ‘Our military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on August 31st. The drawdown is proceeding in a secure and orderly way'

August 18: ‘Americans should understand that we're going to try to get [the evacuation] done before August 31.'

There are still around 15,000 Americans and allied citizens stranded in Afghanistan, with the Taliban deciding who can and can't reach the airport. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said: 'We don't have the capability to go out and collect up large numbers of people.’

On the Embassy

July 8: ‘There’s going to be no circumstance when you’re going to see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy. It’s not at all comparable [with Saigon].'

The US embassy was closed on Sunday, August 15 with staff and the US flag hastily evacuated by chinook helicopter from the roof.

On the Afghan government

July 8: ‘The Afghan leadership has the capacity to sustain the government in place.'

August 18: 'You had the government of Afghanistan, the leader of that government, get in a plane and taking off and going to another country.'

On Afghan translators

July 8: 'We can guarantee their safety.'

August 18: The Taliban control the area around Kabul airport and have shot and beaten crowds of people trying to get through for evacuation.

Ex-US soldiers have said the lives of Afghans who helped the US are in grave danger and will likely be executed.

Biden v. Reality: President falsely stated the US has no troops in Syria - when there are 900 - and the Afghan military had 300,000 troops in a series of lies and bungled statements in ABC interview Biden v. Reality: President falsely stated the US has no troops in Syria - when there are 900 - and the Afghan military had 300,000 troops in a series of lies and bungled statements in ABC interview Reviewed by STATION GOSSIP on 07:10 Rating: 5

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