As the U.S. races to evacuate diplomats via helicopters from its embassy in Kabul amid the Taliban's rapid advance, President Joe Biden's insistence during a July press conference that this would not happen has resurfaced on social media.
On July 8, Biden discussed the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, swatting back concerns that a Taliban takeover of the country would be "inevitable." The president explicitly said that Americans would not see images reminiscent of the U.S. evacuation from Vietnam at the end of that war in 1975—when photos of helicopters evacuating people from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon were widely circulated in the media.
"The Taliban is not the south—the North Vietnamese army. They're not—they're not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There's going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy in the—of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable," Biden insisted during a July 8 press conference.
But on Sunday, images of helicopters evacuating diplomats from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Kabul began circulating online and in the media. Reuters, The Washington Post and other media outlets reported that the U.S. was using the aircraft to swiftly evacuate diplomats as Taliban insurgents converged on Afghanistan's capital.
Some on Twitter shared the video clip of Biden asserting that these images would not be seen by Americans. Others shared his quote and included side-by-side images of a helicopter evacuating the Kabul embassy on Sunday and one doing the same in Saigon in 1975.
House Republicans—who have largely slammed Biden over the withdrawal of U.S. forces despite the peace deal with the Taliban being signed under former President Donald Trump—shared a video on Twitter of the president's July 8 remarks on Afghanistan.
"This was just 38 days ago," the GOP lawmakers captioned the clip.
During that press conference, Biden also insisted that a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was not "inevitable." He pushed back against journalists questions that noted intelligence indicated that the U.S.-backed Afghan government would fall within a relatively short period of time.
"I trust the capacity of the Afghan military, who is better trained, better equipped, and more—more competent in terms of conducting war," Biden said at the time.
Afghanistan has become the longest U.S. war. The U.S. invaded the country in 2001 after the terrorist attacks of September 11 of that year.
Trump's administration signed the peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020. The former president had long argued that remaining in the country was "ridiculous," and did not benefit the U.S. or its interests. Under Trump's deal, which was spearheaded by then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the U.S. agreed to withdraw all its forces from Afghanistan by May 1 of this year.
Although Biden chose to move forward with that agreement after he took office, he pushed back the withdrawal deadline to September 11. The president then moved it forward to August 31—but the Afghan government has already collapsed as of Sunday.
Last week, Biden continued to defend the withdrawal, asserting that the U.S. had achieved its objective of subduing the extremist militant group Al Qaeda in Afghanistan years ago. Al Qaeda was allegedly responsible for planning and executing the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
"I do not regret my decision," Biden said. "Afghan leaders have to come together. We lost thousands—lost to death and injury—thousands of American personnel. They've got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation."
Although U.S. intelligence and military experts believed that Kabul could fall within a month to 90 days, the Biden administration was apparently caught off guard with how rapidly the Taliban regained control. Many are criticizing the Biden administration's withdrawal, but many are also defending the decision.
Benjamin H. Friedman, the policy director of Defense Priorities, said that the current outcome "was always likely to occur whenever U.S. forces left, whether 10 years ago or 10 years from now" in a statement emailed to Newsweek.
"Although the speed of this collapse is surprising to many, official lies about progress could never really hide that we were building a failed state, not fixing one. For the most part, Afghan forces didn't fight as U.S. forces left; they switched sides or simply left," Friedman said.
Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.