WATCH JOE BIDEN’S PRESS CONFERENCE LIVE HERE:
US President Joe Biden is poised to interrupt his holiday and address the chaos in Afghanistan as the country lurches into Taliban control.
Biden is due to address the nation at 7.45am NZ time. You can watch it live here.
He had ordered the complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan back in April, setting a deadline of September 11.
In recent weeks, as that withdrawal neared its completion, the Taliban overran the Afghan military and swept across the country, conquering most major cities.
Biden has found himself increasingly isolated and facing criticism for “hiding” at Camp David.
Biden and his wife Dr Jill Biden left on Friday for the presidential retreat in Maryland and are due to remain there until Wednesday.
The White House tweeted an image of the US President sitting alone in a secure room, being briefed by his generals via video chat on Sunday. The Associated Press reports he is due to address the nation at about 7.45am (NZT).
“I can’t believe this is a real picture. It is,” tweeted Adam Kinzinger, the Republican representative from Illinois and a former US Air Force officer, suggesting it failed to instil the sense of confidence it intended to.
“Why is Joe Biden on vacation, why hasn’t his administration taken a single question? This is an embarrassment,” said Jim Jordan, a Republican representative from Ohio.
Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton said the president “should immediately address the nation and answer for the catastrophic situation in Afghanistan. Conference calls between cabinet secretaries and senators don’t cut it in a crisis”.
Former President Donald Trump, who had begun the withdrawal of troops during his term in the White House, sent a statement to his followers calling on Biden to “resign in disgrace” on Sunday.
Meanwhile, inquiries to Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, were going unanswered with Psaki on holiday all week.
Leading figures in the administration acknowledged they were caught off guard with the utter speed of the collapse of Afghan security forces and were left to defend the decision in Biden’s absence.
A conference call was held on Sunday between members of Congress and the administration’s top diplomatic and military leaders on Afghanistan, where lawmakers pressed the administration on how intelligence could have failed so badly.
General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators that US officials are expected to alter their earlier assessments about the pace of terrorist groups reconstituting in Afghanistan.
Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defence, reportedly said in the call that he blamed the Afghan army for not showing resistance to the Taliban, deflecting responsibility away from the US’ decision to leave.
“It is overwhelmingly clear to me that this has been a cascade of failures at the Defense Department, with the intelligence community and within our political community,” Peter Meijer, a Republican representative from Michigan and a former Army reservist, told the New York Times.
“And nothing on the call gave me the confidence that even the magnitude of the failures has been comprehended.”
Even members of the Democratic Party could find little to say by way of support.
Ro Khanna, a Democratic representative from California, said his office had been bombarded with calls from the large Afghan population in his East Bay district because the repatriation assistance page of the State Department website included a broken link that had gotten them nowhere.
Discussions are under way for Biden to speak publicly, according to senior administration officials. However, the President is scheduled to remain at the presidential retreat until Wednesday, and any address will be given from the White House.
Jake Sullivan, National Security Adviser, demurred on a question on Monday morning when Biden would address the American people, but said we can expect to hear from him “soon”.
Most serious test of Biden's leadership
The speed of the Afghan government’s collapse and the ensuing chaos poses the most serious test yet to Biden as commander in chief.
The President, who campaigned as a seasoned expert in international relations, has spent weeks attempting to reassure the US public that the Taliban would not overrun the country after the drawdown.
Asked what went wrong in Afghanistan, Sullivan told ABC that the President “didn’t think it was inevitable the Taliban would take control”.
He sought to blame the government’s fall on Afghans themselves, saying the Afghan security forces, who Americans trained for 20 years, could have fought back.
Biden has sought to blame the Trump administration for laying the groundwork for the US retreat and an ascendant Taliban, saying on Saturday evening that Donald Trump “left the Taliban in the strongest military position” since the US invaded two decades ago.
“When I became President, I faced a choice – follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our forces and our allies,” he said.
Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader, is calling for investigations into Biden’s handling.
McCarthy told Punchbowl News that the President’s decision to remove thousands of US troops from Afghanistan was a “mistake that will haunt us for decades,” and pointed to the President’s choice to highlight September 11 of this year as a target date to have troops out of the region.
It was also a mistake, McCarthy said, to pull US forces out “during the summer, when [the Taliban is] at their height”.
The top House Republican indicated he wants investigations probing what the American and allied intelligence community knew in the weeks and months leading up to the fall of the Afghan government.
Scenes of Afghans scrambling to reach the airport in Kabul emphasised the speed with which America had abandoned its partners.
The US has just two weeks to rescue 30,000 US staff, translators and other Afghans by August 31, with the change of Afghan government.
The Department of Defence is reportedly preparing to house tens of thousands of Afghan refugees in American military installations while it processes their asylum claims, including at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Fort Bliss in Texas.
The move is a reversal from the Biden administration’s previous policy. On July 8, Biden said the US government could not evacuate Afghan translators to the US to await visa processing like some migrants at the southern border.
Former US presidents Barack Obama and Trump also yearned to leave Afghanistan, but ultimately stood down in the face of resistance from military leaders and other political concerns.
Meanwhile, a late July ABC News/Ipsos poll showed 55 per cent of Americans approving of Biden’s handling of the troop withdrawal.
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