President Joe Biden says there is a “significantly greater” threat from al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups in other countries than the Taliban in Afghanistan as he defended his administration’s turbulent withdrawal.
“There is a significantly greater threat to the United States from Syria … East Africa,” the president said on Wednesday. “There is a significantly greater threat from other places in the world than from the mountains of Afghanistan.”
“We should be focusing on where the threat is the greatest,” he said. “We can continue to spend a trillion dollars, and have tens of thousands of American forces in Afghanistan, when we have North Africa and Western Africa—the idea we can do that and ignore those looming problems, growing problems, is not rational.”
Biden also claimed the Taliban is going through an “existential crisis” and that the designated terrorist group isn’t seeking a legitimate position on the global stage.
“I think they’re going through sort of an existential crisis about [whether or not] they want to be recognized by the international community as being a legitimate government—I’m not sure they do,” he said.
Biden also pushed back against concerns about the treatment of women and girls in the country, arguing that it’s “not rational” to try to protect women’s rights around the globe through military force. Instead, it should be done through “diplomatic and international pressure” on human rights abusers to change their behavior.
During the interview, Biden defended his administration’s handling of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the war-torn nation after the Afghan capital, Kabul, was taken unopposed by the terrorist group last week.
Biden has faced backlash over the timing and direction of the withdrawal, but the president told ABC that he believes chaos was unavoidable.
When asked if the exit could have been handled better in any way, he said, “No. I don’t think it could’ve been handled in a way that—we’re going to go back in hindsight and look but the idea that somehow there was a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens.”
Up to 15,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan after the Taliban took full control of the nation on Aug. 15. Biden said during the same interview that he’s committed to keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan until every American is evacuated, even if that means maintaining a military presence beyond his Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawal.
Pressed repeatedly on how the administration would help Americans left in the nation after Aug. 31, Biden said, “If there are American citizens left, we’re gonna stay till we get them all out.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.