White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended President Joe Biden during a press gaggle aboard Air Force One on Friday following a leaked phone call between him and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in July, in which the two discussed the likelihood of a Taliban takeover of the country even while publicly downplaying the possibility.
After being asked whether the administration was investigating the leak, Jean-Pierre took the opportunity to expound on the story “because I don’t think we’ve had a chance to really address this.”
“So, the President conveyed privately exactly what he conveyed publicly at a pivotal time, when you’re talking about the call — the phone call with Ghani: In the pivotal time in the down — the drawdown, when it was essential for the government and the military to step up, it was a — it was pivotal for President Ghani to lead,” Jean-Pierre said.
“President Biden was telling Ghani three things: Work with my team to nail down the details of an effective military strategy, consolidating around population centers; two, let your military commanders implement that strategy; and, three, rally the political leaders behind that strategy to reinforce the confidence of the Afghan public and the international community behind that strategy,” she continued before adding that she didn’t have “more to say” about it.
In a follow-up, a reporter asked whether Biden was trying to tell Ghani “to convey strength and that his government was in firm control, no matter if true?”
“So, I’ll say this,” Jean-Pierre responded. “The President, Secretary Austin, Secretary Blinken, Jake Sullivan, many others all said many times this summer that whether the Afghan force would fight for their country was a matter — a matter of will, not capabilities of supplies.
“And public confidence has a big impact on will,” she noted further, before going on to blame Ghani directly for the fall of his country.
“The view of our military leaders, as well as common sense, was that the best chance Ghani had was to rally the country and implement a strategy that could both stop the Taliban’s gains and give confidence to the Afghan Security Forces and the public,” the spokeswoman said. “That advice was both sound and consistent with what we were saying publicly. Unfortunately, Ghani couldn’t or wouldn’t heed the advice.”
In the weeks before the Taliban takeover, Biden and other members of his administration said they had confidence the 300,000 U.S.-trained-and-supplied Afghan National Army could hold off the Taliban.
Earlier this week, Reuters reported on the transcript of a phone call between Biden and Ghani in July, weeks before the Taliban completely retook control of Afghanistan ahead of the U.S. withdrawal, in which it appeared the American leader was imploring his counterpart in Kabul to make it appear as though his forces had the situation under control despite gains on the ground being made by the militant group.
“I need not tell you the perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things are not going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban,” Biden told Ghani. “And there is a need, whether it’s true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.”
“We’ll continue to provide close air support if we know what the plan is,” Biden added, which prompted some critics to claim he was engaging in a “quid pro quo” reminiscent of Democrats’ charges against then-President Donald Trump over a phone call with Ukraine’s president that led to his first impeachment.
In a follow-up report, Fox News noted on Friday that major news outlets and networks avoided the story completely, despite its highly controversial nature given that 13 U.S. service members were killed in a suicide bombing last week outside the international airport in Kabul while Taliban fighters were manning security checkpoints.
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