Following the successful mission in al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan on Monday, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby was questioned on previous statements made by President Biden stating that al-Qaeda was gone from Afghanistan.
"John, something you’ve just said is not consisted with what we were told last year," Fox News’ Peter Doocy began. "You’re saying that you’ve always known there was a small number of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. President Biden said, 'what interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point with al-Qaeda gone?'"
"Yeah, I mean, in a major way al-Qaeda was not… playing a major role in operations or resourcing or planning in Afghanistan," said Kirby. "But, Peter, I know specifically because I was at a different podium a year ago. And we talked about the fact that al-Qaeda had a presence in Afghanistan, but its small, and not incredibly powerful or potent. And I think again, without getting into the numbers, we would still assess that to be the case."
Biden had issued the comment in August of last year, amidst the disastrous withdrawn from Afghanistan that saw numerous military service members and civilians killed.
"Look, let's put this thing in perspective. What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point, with al-Qaeda gone? We went to Afghanistan for the express purpose of getting rid of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan as well as—as well as—getting Osama bin Laden. And we did," Biden said at the time.
In a CNN fact check issued just days after Biden said the statement, they stated that Kirby had issued a correction, telling reporters, "We know that al-Qaeda is a presence, as well as ISIS, in Afghanistan, and we've talked about that for quite some time."
"What we believe is that there isn't a presence that is significant enough to merit a threat to our homeland as there was back on 9/11, 20 years ago,' Kirby later added, noting that the number of al-Qaeda members is not believed to be "exorbitantly high."
Doocy continued on, pressing Kirby as to why a "whole country" was left to the hands of terrorists.
"So we know that the Taliban was harboring the world's most wanted terrorist. You guys gave a whole country to a bunch of people that are on the FBI most wanted list. What did you think was gonna happen?" Doocy asked.
I take issue with the premise that we gave a whole country to terrorist groups," said Kirby. "Again, I’d encourage you to ask —"
Doocy said that the Taliban had been harboring "the world’s number one terrorist. How’s that not giving a country to a terrorist sympathizing group, if not giving them permission to have terrorists just sit on a balcony?"
Kirby responded by saying the wording of the question "makes it sound like we owned Afghanistan a year ago."
"It wasn't our country. It was an independent sovereign state. And the President made a bold decision to end a war that had been going on for 20 years because he believed then and still believes now that our national security interests are best met by meeting the threats of today, not the threats of 2001," said Kirby.
"I don't want to re-litigate the whole war here, but obviously no one anticipated the Ghani government to fall as fast as it did. But we said at the time that as we depart Afghanistan, we're going to keep vigilant, we're going to stay ready, and we're not gonna let Afghanistan become a safe haven for terrorists who threaten our homeland. And this past weekend, we prove that case precisely," said Kirby.
In response, Doocy said that now that the Taliban has proven they are not going to "live up to the part of the deal they made with the US to not let Afghanistan be a place that terrorists feel like they can be safe, what are you going to do about it?"
Kirby stated that he would not "telegraph decision that haven’t been made."
Doocy shot back by saying, "Are we waiting for some spectacular terrorist attack in the US to then say, 'oh, well there’s terrorists, now we can go get them."
"If we were Peter, then we wouldn't have taken the hit. On Saturday. The strike that we took on Mr. Zawahiri if we were just waiting, this isn't about waiting. It's about watching. And we watch very closely and we acted on what we learned," said Kirby.
"And I would go so far as to say not only the American people are safer as a result of President Biden's decision, but the rest of the world is safer," said Kirby. "Does that mean that the threat from al-Qaeda is over? No, of course it's not. Now they'll have to make some decisions here and we'll watch that too. And if we discern a threat to the American homeland, again, from them or any other terrorist group, the President will reserve the right to take that action again."
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