National security adviser Jake Sullivan was questioned during a press briefing Monday on whether President Biden understands the “full picture” about the potential terrorism threat coming out of Afghanistan now that the Taliban have taken over the country.
Biden, who has repeatedly defended his pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, claimed from the White House Friday that al Qaeda was “gone” from the country, adding, “We went to Afghanistan for the express purpose of getting rid of al Qaeda in Afghanistan as well as getting Usama bin Laden, and we did.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken later appeared to contradict Biden, telling Fox News on Sunday that there are still “remnants” of the terrorist group in Afghanistan but that its “capacity has been very successfully diminished.”
During a White House press briefing Monday afternoon, Fox News’ Peter Doocy pointed out the apparent discrepancy, asking Sullivan whether officials were “presenting the president with the full picture” or if he was “just misapplying the intelligence” when he made his comments.
“The president was referring to al Qaeda’s capability to attack the United States, which the intelligence community tells us today is not present in Afghanistan,” Sullivan responded. “What is present in Afghanistan right now … is a serious threat from ISIS-K, which we’re trying to deal with. And of course, there’s the possibility that al Qaeda could reconstitute an external plot capability in Afghanistan.”
Sullivan continued: “That’s why you’ve heard from the president repeatedly about the need for an over-the-horizon capability that will allow the United States, working with partners, to continue to suppress the terrorism threat in Afghanistan from al Qaeda or ISIS-K or anyone else, just as we work to suppress the terrorism threat from al Qaeda and ISIS in Yemen, in Syria, in Somalia, in the Islamic Maghreb, in many other countries,” he said, referring to the Islamic State Khorasan Province.
“And let me just finish by saying the president has been clear that from his perspective, American counterterrorism capabilities have evolved to the point where we can suppress that terrorism threat without keeping thousands or tens of thousands of troops on the ground in a country,” he added. “We have proven that out in other countries and that is exactly what we intend to do in Afghanistan.”
In the past, Biden has pointed to Syria and East Africa as areas where Islamic terrorists pose a greater threat to Americans on U.S. soil than Afghanistan, and yet the U.S. does not have a sizable military presence in those areas.
The president met with his national security team over the weekend to discuss counterterrorism efforts and the security situation in Afghanistan while the U.S. military continues to evacuate thousands of people out of the airport in Kabul.
Sullivan previously said the terrorist threat people are facing at the airport by congregating together in large groups is “real.”
“The threat is real. It’s acute. It is persistent. And it is something we’re focused on with every tool in our arsenal,” he told CNN on Sunday.