President Joe Biden falsely claimed the United States had gotten rid of al Qaeda in Afghanistan — only to be swiftly contradicted by the Pentagon minutes after his White House speech.
The contradiction adds to the tally of misleading statements that have accompanied the Biden administration’s handling of the Afghanistan crisis over the past week.
Biden contended Friday that al Qaeda had been eliminated in Afghanistan after Osama bin Laden was killed by the U.S. As vice president, Biden opposed the daring Obama-era U.S. special forces mission that killed the al Qaeda founder in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011. However, he has repeatedly claimed he actually supported it.
“Let’s put this thing in perspective here. What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point with al Qaeda gone?” Biden said when answering questions after a Friday speech at the White House. “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 … We went and did the mission. You’ve known my position for a long, long time. It’s time to end this war.”
Al Qaeda maintains a presence in Afghanistan, and it has continued its more than two-decade alliance with the Taliban. The Pentagon admitted in a press conference Friday afternoon that al Qaeda remains in Afghanistan, though Defense Department press secretary John Kirby said he did not know exactly how many fighters remained, contending the terrorist group doesn’t pose a threat to the U.S. homeland.
“I haven’t seen an estimate on that … I don’t know that we have an exact estimate … We know that al Qaeda is a presence, as well as ISIS, in Afghanistan, and we’ve talked about that for quite some time. We do not believe it is exorbitantly high, but we don’t have an exact figure for you,” Kirby said. “As I think you might understand … it’s not like they carry identification cards and register somewhere. We don’t have a perfect picture. And our ability — our intelligence gathering ability in Afghanistan isn’t what it used to be because we aren’t there in the same numbers that we used to be … 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 added: “What I said was we don’t have the degree of dexterity intelligence to give you a head count, a nose count, of exactly how many al Qaeda fighters are in Afghanistan. No one is walking away from the fact that they aren’t there. And we’re certainly going to maintain as much vigilance as we can absent a presence on the ground.”
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