Thursday, President Biden pledged the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will go on after an attack by ISIS-K killed 12 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghan civilians.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
President Biden says the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will continue – this despite the deaths of 13 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghan civilians in an attack by ISIS-K. That’s the Islamic State affiliate in Central Asia. It is the biggest single day loss of life for U.S. troops in years. And Biden vowed that there would be a response to the attack.
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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this. We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.
CORNISH: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez was in the room for the speech. He joins me now.
Franco, what more did the president say about how the U.S. might respond to this attack?
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Well, Audie, he said ISIS-K was responsible for the attack. He said the U.S. would respond at a moment of its choosing. But he also emphasized that it won’t affect the mission over the next few days. Now they’re trying to get out as many Americans as well as as many Afghans who help U.S. forces as possible. But the August 31 deadline is looming, and he also needs to get troops and equipment out. And after the withdrawal, there are questions about how difficult it will be to get intelligence on terror threats from groups inside of Afghanistan.
CORNISH: The president was also asked about maintaining this withdrawal deadline – right? – of August 31. Where does the evacuation effort stand?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, the State Department says that about 1,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan. Some of them want to remain, or at least they’re not ready to leave yet. But there are also thousands of Afghan people, many of whom helped troops during the 20-year war. And they’re trying to get out, too. Groups working with them are really worried that many of them will be left behind and that they’ll be at risk. I asked the president about that today specifically, and he said they’re going to continue to try to get them out.
CORNISH: Even before today’s attack, President Biden was under criticism for how he was handling the U.S. withdrawal effort. Did he get asked about that? How did he respond?
ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, he did. He was pressed on whether he’s responsible for what happened, and he did say he takes responsibility. But he was also quick to blame his predecessor for the situation he’s in. It was also interesting, Audie, how he defended the U.S. working with the Taliban, a group that has been the U.S. enemy during this long war. Biden says the U.S. doesn’t trust the Taliban, but there is a mutual interest. The U.S. is trying to get out. The Taliban wants the U.S. out, but it also does not want Isis-K to take hold in the country. Now, Biden also said this tragedy underscores why he wanted to get out of the 20-year war. And he said it’s too dangerous, and he did not want to see more troops lose their lives.
CORNISH: What did he have to say about the troops who did?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, the White House says the family members are still being notified by the Pentagon. Press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about whether Biden would go to Dover, Del. That’s the base where caskets of U.S. troops killed in action are received for somber ceremonies. She said the president will do everything he can to honor their sacrifice, and she also said flags at public buildings would be lowered to half-staff.
CORNISH: That’s NPR’s Franco Ordoñez at the White House tonight.
ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.
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