White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday declined to say what the US would do if Afghanistan falls to the Taliban — as President Biden prepared to speak on the pullout of US troops.
The long-running insurgency by the Islamic fundamentalist group is picking up steam ahead of the US withdrawal after nearly 20 years of war.
“I’m not going to get into a hypothetical question,” Psaki said at her daily press briefing, swatting away a question on whether “the president [would] consider sending US troops back into Afghanistan” if the Taliban defeat the US-allied government.
Psaki was pressed by another reporter on whether “you’re accepting the fact or the possibility that the Taliban could indeed take over Afghanistan.”
Instead of directly answering, Psaki said Biden had received a “clear-eyed assessment” and that “what I can convey to you clearly is why he made the decision” to remove US troops.
The Afghan military is widely regarded as corrupt and inept and has suffered a humiliating series of recent defeats. The US military handed over Bagram Airfield near Kabul last week, but due to poor communication, looters made off with much of the supplies meant for Afghan troops.
Psaki said the war will now be “between the Afghans and members of the Taliban, but we are engaged and supportive of that political process” to resolve the conflict through negotiations.
“We’re not going to have a ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment in this regard. It’s a 20-year war that has not been won militarily,” Psaki said.
Biden said in April that he would pull US troops from Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The White House has sought to soften potential criticisms from members of both political parties by pointing out that former President Donald Trump put the US on course for the withdrawal.
Trump long said he wanted to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and he vetoed a $740 billion defense bill in December in part because it contained a provision that would have halted his plan to reduce US troops there from 4,500 in November to 2,500 by Jan. 15.