Pentagon Says Nothing Indicated Collapse of Afghan Government, Army in 11 Days

The Biden administration is defending its actions in Afghanistan that led up to the fall of the country's government and military to the Taliban as the United States moved to withdraw troops after its nearly 20-year war.

"There was nothing that I, or anyone else, saw that indicated a collapse of this army or this government in 11 days," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

Intelligence assessments showed a rapid collapse was possible, but estimates mostly ranged from weeks to months to even years following the departure of U.S. military forces, Milley said.

The United States is now scrambling to evacuate thousands of American citizens and Afghan allies who are trapped in the country as the Taliban takes control.

"It's obvious we're not close to where we want to be in terms of getting those numbers through," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters about the pace of getting people out of Afghanistan.

Kabul's airport has been overrun by people trying to flee, and there have been widespread reports of Taliban fighters preventing people from getting to the airfield.

"We have seen reports that the Taliban, contrary to their public statements and their commitments to our government, are blocking Afghans who wish to leave the country from reaching the airport," Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters at a separate briefing on Wednesday.

Austin noted that the scope of the operation complicates the safe extraction of everyone.

"We don't have the capability to go out and collect large numbers of people," he said. "The forces that we have are focused on the security of the airfield."

President Joe Biden addressed the situation in Afghanistan in prepared remarks on Monday but hasn't taken reporters' questions on the crisis in more than a week. He has faced a sharp backlash over the chaos that's unfolding in Afghanistan, but his administration has adamantly defended its role in the situation.

"We went to Afghanistan almost 20 years ago with clear goals: get those who attacked us on September 11th, 2001, and make sure Al-Qaeda could not use Afghanistan as a base from which to attack us again," Biden said. "We did that."

He noted that he "inherited a deal that President Trump negotiated with the Taliban" to have U.S. troops out of the country by May 1 of this year.

"The choice I had to make, as your president, was either to follow through on that agreement or be prepared to go back to fighting the Taliban in the middle of the spring fighting season," the president said.

On Wednesday, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were again briefed by national security advisers on Afghanistan. According to the White House, they discussed efforts to accelerate evacuations and facilitate safe passage to Kabul's airport.

Shortly after taking office, Biden announced that U.S. troops would be out of Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks—putting an end to the longest war in American history. That deadline was revised last month, with U.S. forces set to be out by the end of August.

The Taliban took control of several cities before ultimately moving into Kabul on Sunday, as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani made a hasty escape.

Biden administration gives Afghanistan update
The Biden administration is defending its actions in Afghanistan after the Taliban's takeover. Above, a Taliban fighter walks past a beauty salon, with images of women defaced by spray paint, in Kabul on Wednesday. Wakil KOHSAR / AFP/Getty Images