‘America should never botch a mission like this’: Ex-White House press secretary on Taliban’s takeover

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The former White House press secretary, who served under President George W. Bush, is expressing concerns over what he calls the “botched mission” in Afghanistan.

Ari Fleischer was the press secretary who stood by President Bush’s side when the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 occurred and was there as the war in Afghanistan started unfolding.

He told WCBS 880’s Steve Scott this week that he was shocked by what has happened over the last two decades and never could have foreseen the events of this week.

“In October 2001, when we announced the counterattack in Afghanistan, it never occurred to me that we would be there 20 years later,” Fleischer said.

He adds that he now feels “tremendous sadness” over “the way this has been carried out” and “for the abandonment of our allies.”

“America should never botch a mission like this. And that's what it feels like,” he said. “We should not have been there for 20 years. But no, this is not the way to come home. This is not the way to do it. This is not the way to abandon our friends and our allies, and people who are now going to suffer.”

Fleischer believes President Joe Biden could have handled the withdrawal of troops from the country in a much more organized way and thinks too many people were left behind.

“How hard would it have been for somebody to say, ‘We need to have 7,000 troops there, in order to slowly and properly withdraw, without turning everything over to the Taliban?’ I mean, we just did it backwards. We got the troops out, and then tried to withdraw everybody else,” he said.

The former press secretary also notes that he is worried that the United States just “wasted” the last 20 years in the country.

“[The Taliban is already] torturing people, they’re already going door to door and home to home, seizing people who they believed worked for the United States government and NATO and the West,” Fleischer said. “The people are going to be affected, and we will get our people out, hopefully, safely. Hopefully, nothing will happen. But I also feel for the military. They did their job. Our warriors who went over to Afghanistan and fought the Taliban successfully to a standstill, they did their job. It's the civilians who are there now who haven’t and the decisions they made, and that's the tragedy.”

On Monday, President Biden defended the withdrawal from Afghanistan and called the anguish of trapped Afghan civilians “gut-wrenching.” He stressed that the Taliban had achieved a much faster takeover of the country than his administration had expected.

“I stand squarely behind my decision” to finally withdraw U.S. combat forces, Biden said.

He said he warned U.S.-backed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to be prepared to fight a civil war with the Taliban after U.S. forces left and he “failed to do any of that.”

The president, however, has vowed to take care of U.S. allies in the region and notes that troops are working to get them out of the country safely.