National security adviser: Afghan army lacked 'will' to defend its country

White House national security adviser Jake SullivanJake SullivanWhen will Biden declare America's 'One China, One Taiwan' policy? On steel and aluminum trade, Trumpism still rules Hawley lifts hold on Biden's pick for NATO envoy, teeing up confirmation MORE on Monday defended the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan while acknowledging that the country fell to the Taliban much quicker than officials anticipated.

“It is certainly the case that the speed with which cities fell was much greater than anyone anticipated, including the Afghans, including many of the analysts who looked hard at this problem,” Sullivan said in an appearance on NBC’s "Today."

Sullivan added that part of the reason for the speed of collapse “is because that end of the day, despite the fact we spent 20 years and tens of billions of dollars to give the best equipment, the best training and the best capacity to the Afghan national security forces, we could not give them the will and they ultimately decided that they would not fight for Kabul and they would not fight for the country.”

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President BidenJoe BidenUS lawmakers arrive in Taiwan to meet with local officials Biden meets with Coast Guard on Thanksgiving Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season MORE has withstood heavy criticism over the execution of the withdrawal, which saw U.S. helicopters evacuate diplomatic staff off the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul as the Taliban overran the country. Americans are currently sheltering at Kabul's international airport, which officials have acknowledged is not yet secure for them to evacuate. 

Just last month, Biden told reporters that the withdrawal from Afghanistan would not be comparable to the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. 

“There's going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy,” Biden said at the time. He also said it was “highly unlikely” the Taliban would execute a full takeover of the country. The Taliban took Kabul on Sunday as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

Asked Monday morning how the Biden administration got it so wrong, Sullivan at first insisted the helicopter evacuation was not unusual. 

“To be fair, the helicopter has been the mode of transport from our embassy to the airport for the last 20 years,” Sullivan said, before later acknowledging that the Taliban overran the country faster than expected. Sullivan also insisted that Biden prepared for contingencies, including the current situation, by prepositioning forces in the Gulf to ensure they could quickly deploy to Afghanistan if needed. 

He also insisted that it was not “inevitable” that the Taliban would take control of Afghanistan, echoing Biden’s earlier comments.

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As of Sunday, 6,000 troops had been deployed to Afghanistan to assist with the withdrawal amid the deteriorating security situation. Biden authorized an additional 1,000 troops on Sunday.

Sullivan, who appeared on various morning television programs to answer questions about the situation, said that the Biden administration is working to secure Kabul's airport in order to evacuate remaining Americans and at-risk Afghans. 

“We are in the process of trying to fully secure the airport and execute that set of evacuation flights, which will proceed over the coming days,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said that Biden had “bad choices” in Afghanistan but insisted it wouldn't have made a difference if the U.S. had remained in the country longer.

“What we have learned over the course of the past two weeks is if we had stayed one more year, or two more years, or five more years, or 10 more years, no amount of training, equipping or money or lives lost by the United States was going to put the Afghan army in a position to be able to sustain that country on its own,” Sullivan said.

“The president had to make the best possible choice he could, and he stands by that decision,” he added.

Biden has been at Camp David over the weekend and has received briefings from his national security personnel about Afghanistan. Beyond issuing a statement on Saturday, he has not spoken publicly.

Asked during an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” if the American public can expect to hear from Biden today, Sullivan said he would address the situation “soon.” Sullivan said that Biden’s “overriding focus” is on ensuring the evacuation mission is completed.

“At the right point, he will absolutely address the American people,” Sullivan said.