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Biden Afghanistan response as ‘flat-footed’: Sen. Lindsey Graham

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) slammed the White House as “flat-footed” in its response to Afghanistan — as he revealed troubling details from a briefing he and other senators had with top administration officials while President Biden was at Camp David for the weekend.

Graham told The Washington Post about how officials warned on Sunday morning that as many as 60,000 people were eligible to be evacuated from Afghanistan, and that they were revising their June assessment about the kind of threat militant groups like al Qaeda operating out of the country could pose to the US.

“Clearly, they were flat-footed,” Graham told the newspaper in an article published Tuesday.

“People are concerned about the evacuation and people are concerned about the threat to the homeland,” he continued. “There’s a bipartisan concern about leaving people behind who helped us, and there’s growing concern about this on our foreign policy writ large.”

Sen. Lindsey Grahm called the White House’s response to the crisis in Afghanistan “flat-footed.”
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The reported hour-long briefing, called by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer Saturday night, included top officials such as Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“The thing that struck me, having been with all those guys over the years, was the amount of ‘ums,’ ‘uhs’ and ‘you knows,’” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who was also on the call, told The Post.

“This is a group that usually speaks in complete sentences, and they all sounded, especially Blinken, less confident in what he was saying.”

Senators peppered officials with questions that ranged from “supportive to antagonistic,” according to another person who was on the briefing.

Sen. John Barrasso claims top officials didn't sound confident about their decisions on a recent conference call with lawmakers.
Sen. John Barrasso claims top officials didn’t sound confident about their decisions on Afghanistan during a recent conference call with lawmakers.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

“There was very deep concern and worry about the unfolding horror and human tragedy,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), told the newspaper.

Among the concerns, even from Democrats, was the Biden administration’s poor execution of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the weekend’s bloodshed, the report said.

“These are Democrats who have been supporters of the president and wanted us out of Afghanistan,” Barrasso said. “And the criticism was about the execution, as opposed to the political decision to bring everybody home, and how poorly it was being executed.”

President Joe Biden received criticism for being away from the White House all weekend while Afghanistan fell to the Taliban.
President Joe Biden received criticism for being away from the White House all weekend while Afghanistan fell to the Taliban.
EPA/Oliver Contreras / POOL

The briefing came after the White House on Saturday had posted a picture of Biden alone in a conference room at Camp David, video-conferencing with Vice President Kamala Harris and his national security team about “the ongoing efforts to draw down our civilian footprint in Afghanistan.”

Republicans on Sunday raged about Biden’s weekend jaunt to the presidential country retreat as the situation in Afghanistan quickly devolved, with the Taliban gaining ground and sweeping into the capital of Kabul.

Inside the Executive Mansion and across the national security community, officials watched in shock as the situation in Afghanistan deteriorated in recent days, the Washington Post report said.

One close Biden foreign policy ally told the paper that the president’s team would never have let him leave DC had they known about the impending crisis — including the scramble to evacuate US citizens and Afghan nationals out of Kabul before the Taliban completed its takeover.

On Sunday, the White House put out another picture of Biden from Camp David, meeting over video with Harris, national security advisers and other officials to hear updates about the evacuations from Afghanistan and “the ongoing security situation in Kabul.”

President Biden in a meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris and other officials while at Camp David.
President Biden in a meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris and other officials while at Camp David.
The White House via Getty Images

The president eventually curtailed his trip and returned to the White House to address the nation on Monday, admitting that “this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki had planned to be away from Washington, on vacation with her family for the week, but instead worked remotely over the weekend and came back to the White House Monday, a source familiar with the situation told The Post.

One senior administration official told The Post Monday that the pictures released over the weekend probably weren’t helpful in hindsight, but told the paper they viewed Biden’s speech as a reset.

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