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Biden 'had bad choices' on Afghanistan, national security adviser says

Jake Sullivan said the Biden administration was surprised by the speed of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan but remains committed to withdrawing U.S. forces.
/ Source: TODAY

The national security adviser to President Joe Biden said on TODAY Monday that the administration has been surprised at the speed in which the Taliban have taken over Afghanistan after Biden had previously said it was "highly unlikely" that they would overrun the Afghan government.

Jake Sullivan spoke to Savannah Guthrie about the chaotic scene in the Afghan capital of Kabul as Taliban fighters took control of the city after having already overrun multiple provincial capitals across the country. Biden has come under fire for a lack of coordinated planning in the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the swift takeover by the Taliban.

"It's certainly the case that the speed with which cities fell was much greater than anyone anticipated including the Afghans, including many of the analysts of who looked hard at this problem," Sullivan said.

"Part of the reason for that is because at the end of the day, despite the fact that we spent 20 years and tens of billions of dollars to give the best equipment, the best training and the best capacity to the Afghan national security forces, we could not give them the will," Sullivan said. "And they ultimately decided that they would not fight for Kabul and they would not fight for the country, and that opened the door to the Taliban to come into Kabul very rapidly."

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Sullivan added that there "the capacity to stand up and resist" the Taliban's advances on Kabul, but "that capacity didn't happen."

"I think the worst-case scenario for the United States would be a circumstance in which we were adding back in thousands and thousands of troops to fight and die in a civil war in Afghanistan when the Afghan army wasn't prepared to fight itself," he said. "That was the alternative choice Joe Biden faced."

Sullivan added that the president was left with only "bad choices" and that "no amount" of training, equipment, money or time spent would put the Afghan army in a position to succeed.

"And the choice he made was to bring U.S. forces home, to get us out of that civil war, to get our diplomats out of the embassy and to ultimately ask the Afghans to step up and fight for themselves," Sullivan said. "It is heartbreaking to see what's happening in Kabul, but the president had to make the best possible choice he could and he stands by that decision."

The U.S. State Department had planned on keeping the embassy open in Kabul as recently as Aug. 12, but the speed of the Taliban's assault resulted in it being evacuated by Sunday night.

There are now fears of a ruthless reign by the Taliban, particularly for women and young girls who were brutally repressed under previous Taliban rule before the U.S. invasion following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

A Kabul police officer on Aug. 13 as the Taliban advanced on the capital city. Paula Bronstein / Getty Images

Sullivan said the Biden administration will use all economic, diplomatic and political tools it can to hold the Taliban accountable, but it will not be keeping the troops in Afghanistan.

"The alternative that we faced to physically protect people in Afghanistan was to put American men and women in large numbers back in harm's way fighting and dying in a civil war that its own forces wouldn't fight in. That the president wasn't prepared to do," he said.