Jake Sullivan: Biden relied on military officials on Bagram airport decision
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Sunday assigned partial responsibility to military officials over the move to use Kabul’s airport for evacuation efforts, as he insisted the Biden administration is “working actively to disrupt” another terror attack in Afghanistan.
Asked whether President Biden should take full responsibility for the deadly debacle at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Sullivan explained that the president gave “significant weight” to the advice on the operational aspect of the end of the US occupation of Afghanistan.
“You’ve heard the president take ultimate responsibility for every decision he’s made as commander-in-chief. He has expressly said the buck stops with him,” he said on “Fox News Sunday” with Chris Wallace.
“But let’s be real about Bagram: There is a difference between tactical advice from the commanders on the ground. What is the right operational method of executing a drawdown? And on that, he placed great weight on the advice of the people in the field, a strategic decision to continue a war into a third decade with American troops fighting and dying in a civil war in another country.”
While the call to leave Afghanistan was Biden’s, exactly how the US went about doing so is the duty of top military officials, Sullivan explained.
“On the strategic decision, that’s a decision only a president can make. On the tactical decision of which is the right airport to have for an evacuation, of course, any responsible president would give significant weight to the advice of the commanders on the ground,” he said. “And their advice was to close Bagram and focus on Kabul.”
Sullivan’s explanation came after the president on Thursday explained that he opted to close Bagram based on the advice of military personnel — a decision that sparked criticism after last week’s bombing at the Kabul airport.
“They concluded — the military — that Bagram was not much value added, that it was much wiser to focus on Kabul,” Biden said Thursday. “And so, I followed that recommendation.”
Also Sunday, Sullivan vowed that US forces are attempting to prevent more bloodshed following Thursday’s ISIS-K suicide attack that left 13 US service members and hundreds of Afghans dead — after Biden warned Saturday afternoon that another terror attack “is highly likely in the next 24-36 hours.”
“There are more threat streams that we are working actively to try to disrupt and prevent,” said Sullivan.
“And as the president has said, another attack could occur at any time. He has directed his commanders on the ground to take every force protection measure possible to ensure the safety of our troops as they complete their mission.”
Sullivan said about 5,500 American citizens have been evacuated from Kabul so far and that authorities believe some 300 or fewer remain in the ravaged country.
The national security advisor also reiterated Biden’s threat from last week to “hunt down” ISIS-K, saying, “The president will stop at nothing to make ISIS-K pay for the deaths of those American service members at the Kabul airport. He will ensure that we get the people responsible for this, that we continue to put pressure on the group responsible for this, and that we continue to take targets off the battlefield.”
Thursday’s deadly blast raised questions about why the military abandoned the fortified Bagram airfield, which is 40 miles from Kabul’s airport.
Among the critics was Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller, who went viral Thursday after he posted video on Facebook in which he slammed military leadership following the devastating suicide blast.
“I’m not saying we’ve got to be in Afghanistan forever, but I am saying: Did any of you throw your rank on the table and say, ‘Hey, it’s a bad idea to evacuate Bagram Airfield, a strategic airbase, before we evacuate everyone’? Did anyone do that?” Schellder fumed. “And when you didn’t think to do that, did anyone raise their hand and say, ‘We completely messed this up?’ ”
“I think the Taliban demanded [the closure of Bagram]. I think that was part of the deal that Biden made,” claimed Jim Hanson, a former Army special forces vet. “The Taliban threatened to start fighting again and then Biden got scared.”