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The Taliban Moved Quicker Than Anticipated To Take Afghanistan

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

While President Biden said several days ago that he did not regret his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, the speed with which the Taliban have swept through the country and approach the capital of Kabul is not what Biden told the American people to anticipate. Here's what the president said on July 8.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The jury is still out, but the likelihood there's going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.

CORNISH: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is here now. Franco, that was then. This is now. What are you hearing from the White House?

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Well, the president announced yesterday that he was sending a thousand more troops to Afghanistan as things continue to escalate. That's in addition to the 3,000 troops who were already on their way this weekend and another thousand who were already in the country. I mean, as we've been talking about, the concerns that the government of Kabul will fall are only increasing. And frankly, Biden shared his assessment of the security situation last night, stating that the Afghan military couldn't or wouldn't be able to hold the country.

CORNISH: What is Biden saying in the face of political criticism back here?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, you know, he has - a lot have been questions about whether White House might rethink their plans, and plans do keep changing. I mean, the Biden administration would not be sending in thousands of more troops if it was confident that the Afghans could have a handle on its own security. But it is also very unlikely that the United States is going to return to combat operations. You know, as I was told by one former ambassador of Afghanistan - that you just cannot rewind this film. I mean, the reality is, yes, the United States could go back. And there really is no question about the outcome. The United States military is a much different animal than the Taliban forces. But the cost for the United States could be great, including human casualties. And Biden says he is not willing to do that. He is defending his decision. And he argued in a statement last - yesterday that continued military presence in the region would not have made a difference. He says he is the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence, and he said he won't allow it to be passed onto a fifth president.

CORNISH: Are they entertaining this argument from critics that the U.S. could have kept a smaller force of a few thousand in Afghanistan to keep stability?

ORDOÑEZ: That probably is the argument that the administration is pushing back hardest against. They say it is a false argument and that there is no way that 2,500 or 3,000 U.S. troops could have done what, obviously, the Afghan army of 300,000 couldn't do. Now, critics do say that this crisis was avoidable and that the United States is running out on the people of Afghanistan, who these critics say they have - the United States has a moral obligation to protect. I will say, of course, the administration says they are doing everything they can to help Afghans who supported the United States. And, you know - but there's so many questions left. There are over 30 million Afghans, and their future just might rest in the hands of the Taliban now.

CORNISH: That's NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Franco, thank you for your reporting.

ORDOÑEZ: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.