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How The White House Is Responding To The Taliban In Afghanistan

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

The Biden administration is facing a fast-changing situation in Afghanistan, where Taliban forces are said to have encircled the capital, Kabul. Joining us now to discuss this is White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Welcome, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hey, Tam.

KEITH: So what is the White House saying at this point?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, we're still waiting to hear from the White House this morning. But throughout all this, Biden has really been keeping a low profile. I mean, he's basically holed up at Camp David, where he's out of the public eye and not facing questions from reporters about all that's happening. But last night, he did order more troops to help. He's sending 1,000 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne out of Fort Bragg to aid in the evacuation of the U.S. embassy and some allies. You know, this is in addition to roughly 3,000 troops already ordered to Kabul and others that were already there. This will bring the total number of U.S. troops on the ground to 5,000.

In a statement yesterday, Biden said he's directing the military and the intelligence community to ensure that the U.S. maintains the, quote, "capability and vigilance to address future threats from Afghanistan." Now, I do expect to hear more soon from the White House. As you've said, this is all shifting so rapidly, helicopters reportedly flying out of the U.S. embassy and other embassies - you know, it's just a really tough situation.

KEITH: Is there a threat to U.S. personnel?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, I mean, there is a reason that the United States is sending increasing number of troops into Kabul to ensure a safe evacuation. Biden made very clear his views in that statement that the Afghan military couldn't or wouldn't hold its own country. Those are his words. Now, in that statement last night, Biden did say that the U.S. had told the Taliban that any action on their part that puts American personnel at risk, quote, "will be met with a swift and strong U.S. military response." Of course, the Taliban could ignore this, but they are also closer to having the U.S. out of the country than at any point since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled their regime. And there's really, you know, very little incentive for them to target the U.S. troops.

KEITH: This looks like a great, big mess from the outside. What is the political cost to President Biden for what's happening right now?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, it's big. I mean, the White House has consistently said that a withdrawal was the only way forward in Afghanistan, but critics are blaming the president for the Taliban's resurgence, giving up on so much of the United States' investment over the last two decades and damaging U.S. credibility around the world. But - and, you know, frankly, Tam, it's not just Republicans who are concerned. There are also Democrats and diplomats also from his time in the Obama administration who are very concerned about all this. But Biden is doubling down and defending his decision. He said a continued military presence in the region would not have made a difference after more than 20 years of conflict in the country.

KEITH: NPR's Franco Ordoñez, thank you for joining us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.