Taliban gunmen patrol the streets of Kabul this week. (Photo by Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images)

Taliban gunmen patrol the streets of Kabul this week. (Photo by Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – It is in the Taliban’s “self-interest” to continue to cooperate with the U.S. evacuation at the Kabul airport, because it wants the U.S. “to leave on time, on target,” President Biden said on Thursday.

Echoing a view voiced earlier by U.S. Central Command commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, Biden also rejected any suggestion that the Taliban may have been complicit in the ISIS-K suicide bombing that killed 13 U.S. service personnel and scores of Afghans.

Answering questions after delivering a statement at the White House, Biden said he had been shown no evidence thus far of “collusion between the Taliban and ISIS in carrying out what happened today.”

Taliban fighters are manning checkpoints beyond the airport perimeter, providing a cordon that the suicide bombers likely would have had to cross to reach the U.S. forces they were targeting at an airport entrance.

 

“There has been some criticism, even from people in your party, about the dependence on the Taliban to secure the perimeter of the airport,” a reporter said. “Do you feel like there was a mistake made in that regard?”

“No I don’t,” Biden replied, pointing to McKenzie’s comments at a Pentagon briefing earlier.

“It is in the interest of, as Mackenzie said, in the interest of the Taliban that, in fact, ISIS-K does not metastasize beyond what it is, number one,” he said. “And number two, it’s in their interest that we are able to leave on time, on target.”

It wasn’t a matter of trusting the Taliban, Biden said, but it was in the group’s own interest to continue doing what the U.S. forces had requested of them.

“The major things we’ve asked them – moving back the perimeter; giving more space between the wall, stopping vehicles from coming through, etcetera, searching people coming through – it is not what you’d call a tightly commanded, regimented operation like the U.S. is – military is – but they’re acting in their interest. Their interest.”

“No one trusts them,” Biden said. “We’re just counting on their self-interest to continue to generate their activities.  And it’s in their self-interest that we leave when we said and that we get as many people out as we can.”

Later Biden again offered an assessment of the fundamentalist groups that seized control of Kabul on August 15.

“They’re not good guys, the Taliban. I’m not suggesting that at all,” he said. “But they have a keen interest. “

Biden said the Taliban wants to keep the Kabul airport operating into the future. It was also wanting to maintain an economy which, while not robust, was nonetheless “fundamentally different than it had been.”

Briefing the press after Biden spoke, White House press secretary Jen Psaki fielded similar queries.

“On the Taliban, they are in charge of the perimeter,” a reporter noted. “For the suicide bomber to get in, they would presumably have to get beyond a Taliban guard. So, why isn’t the Taliban in part responsible for what happened today?”

After referring too to McKenzie’s earlier remarks, Psaki reiterated that the administration does not “have any information at this point in time, and that has not changed over the last couple of hours, to suggest the Taliban had knowledge of or was engaged in or involved in this attack.”

“I’m not trying to sugarcoat what we think of the Taliban. The Taliban is not – they’re not a group we trust. They are not our friends, and we have never said that.”

“It is also the reality that the Taliban controls large swaths of Afghanistan and to date, because of coordination with the Taliban, we’ve been able to evacuate more than 104,000 people – save 104,000 lives. And that coordination is necessary in order to continue our evacuation measures.”

 

Asked what the attack says about the ability of the U.S. to keep the terrorist threat in Afghanistan in check beyond the withdrawal of the last troops at the end of the month, Psaki drew a distinction between the threat posed by ISIS-K to the evacuation mission, and the threat posed to the U.S. homeland from Afghan soil.

Thousands of U.S. military personnel on the ground in Kabul and people gathering at the airport in a bid to get out are a terrorist target, she said.

“But ISIS’ ability to target individuals who are on the ground in Afghanistan is very different from ISIS’ ability to attack the United States and attack the homeland,” Psaki continued.

“And we will maintain and continue over-the-horizon capacity with a presence, in partnership with countries in the region, to ensure that they don’t develop that ability.” 

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