SecDef Austin responds with long, awkward pause when asked about regrets over Afghan withdrawal

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Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin took several seconds to respond to a question about whether he had any regrets about the disastrous and deadly evacuation from Afghanistan in late August after the U.S. and NATO spent 20 years in the Central Asian country battling terrorist elements and a Taliban insurgency.

The question was put to Austin by Fox News anchor Bret Baier during a Reagan National Defense Forum on Saturday, a clip of which was posted online.

“Do you have any regrets about the Afghan withdrawal?” Baier asked during a keynote discussion at the forum, which was held in Simi Valley, Calif.

Following an awkward silence of nearly 10 seconds, the SecDef replied: “Bret, I regret the fact that we lost 13 of our finest at Abbey Gate. I regret that we lost 10 civilians in an errant strike.”

He added: “Having said that, Bret, I want to make sure that we don’t lose sight of the fact that our American forces, in 17 days, evacuated 124,000 people from Afghanistan.”

The forum featured remarks from a number of foreign policy experts and lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, regarding President Joe Biden’s departure from his predecessor’s “America First” strategy, which some went on to argue has hurt the status of the United States on the global stage.

Some of the experts warned at the forum that the United States’ “partner of choice” standing among allies around the world has also waned following the Afghan withdrawal, which was widely criticized abroad and at home.

Following the evacuation, Biden and his national security team were blasted from all quarters after the loss of life and the rapid collapse of the Afghan government as the Taliban rapidly took over the country.

“The disaster that unfolded in Afghanistan is illustrative of other major issues at the White House,” Brett Bruen, the former director of Global Engagement for the Obama administration, noted in USA Today. “The people, plans and processes the president has put in place to keep America safe are not working.”

He went on to argue that the Taliban’s rapid takeover the capital of Kabul, especially, as well as the Biden administration’s failure to get all Americans and U.S. allies out beforehand was the “most unnecessarily embarrassing day in the history of the National Security Council.”

“Our people were unprepared,” Bruen wrote. “We failed to get them out of harm’s way. The Afghan government and military clearly were not ready, either.”

Bruen put much of the onus for the failure on National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and “several other senior leaders who oversaw the botched execution of our withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

“The White House has opted to pack political types into the most influential positions,” he wrote.

For his part, Biden defended his decision while suggesting there was no other way to leave.

“If you had told anybody that we were going to spend $300 million a day for 20 years to try to unite the country after we got [Osama] bin Laden, after al Qaeda was wiped out there,” he said.

“Can al Qaeda come back? Yeah, but guess what? It’s already back in other places,” Biden continued. “What’s the strategy? Every place where al Qaeda is, we’re going to invade and have troops there? Come on.”

“I just think that…again, what people are…as I read it, I’m told…70 percent of the American people think it was time to get out of Afghanistan, spending all that money,” Biden added.

“But the flip of it is they didn’t like the way we got out, but it’s hard to explain to anybody, how else could you get out?” he said.

Jon Dougherty

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