President Joe Biden said "chaos ensuing" in Afghanistan was unavoidable after the U.S. withdrew troops from the country.
Asked by George Stephanopoulos of ABC News if the U.S. exit could have been handled better, Biden said no.
"No, I don't think it could have been handled in a way that – we're gonna go back in hindsight and look – but the idea that somehow, there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don't know how that happens," Biden told Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview. "I don't know how that happened."
Biden this week has been defending his high-stakes bet that U.S. voters want to end American's 20-year war in Afghanistan and will forgive him for the searing images of desperate Afghans looking to flee.
Many Americans on both sides of the political divide were shocked by the trauma that unfolded in Kabul, where desperate Afghans tried to cling to the side of a U.S. military plane as it taxied down a runway, with some plunging to their deaths as it took flight minutes later.
The president bristled at questions about the chaos, saying in the ABC interview that the images were from "four days ago, five days ago" when they were actually from two days ago. He said the scene led him to say the U.S. needed to move more quickly to take control of the airport.
"And we did," he said in the interview, taped earlier Wednesday.
The president said troops would remain in Afghanistan until all Americans are out, even if that takes longer than his Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw. That deadline does not include non-U.S. allies.
"If there's American citizens left, we're gonna stay to get them all out," Biden said.
Biden repeated he stood by his decision to withdraw, and said he faced a decision of whether to put more U.S. troops’ lives at risk or pull out.
"Look, it was a simple choice, George," Biden said. "When you had the government of Afghanistan, the leader of that government, get in a plane and taking off and going to another country; when you saw the significant collapse of the Afghan troops we had trained, up to 300,000 of them, just leaving their equipment and taking off – that was, you know, I'm not – that's what happened. That's simply what happened."
Biden spoke to reporters at the White House on Wednesday about the COVID-19 response, but did not address Afghanistan and didn’t take questions.
© Copyright 2021 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.