He is under intense pressure to defend his handling of the rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces after 20 years of conflict.
And it showed later in the day after returning to Washington, D.C., where he delivered a pep talk to staff at the Federal Emergency Management Agency as Hurricane Ida battered
‘I’m not supposed to take any questions, but go ahead,’ he said as he turned to the travelling press pool.
‘On Afghanistan…’ said a reporter before he cut him off.
He snapped: ‘I’m not going to answer Afghanistan now.’
The president turned away from the press pool to talk to FEMA staff as the reporter continued with a question about whether he still believed ‘there was an extreme risk at the airport.’
After an emotional day meeting relatives of the 13 troops killed by an ISIS-K suicide bomber in Kabul, President Biden returned to Washington to visit the FEMA headquarters
It was a telling moment towards the end of a long day.
Earlier he had landed beneath a slate sky in Delaware at the air base that hosts what the military calls ‘dignified transfers.’
It was the sort of grief-laden day he wanted to consign to history by ending the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
But instead he and the first lady spent the first part of the morning meeting privately with the families of the fallen.
The dead ranged in age from 20 to 31 and ran from east to west, Massachussets to California. Five were 20, babies when Al Qaeda launched their attacks.
Several of the families have been critical of Biden, questioning his decision to send them to Kabul while such a chaotic departure was under way.
Their grief was hidden at Dover air base – they were shielded from view – but audible. Keening wails of pain could be heard as the second body, in a ‘transfer case’ draped in a flag, were carried by a Marine guard from a C-17 plane to a transfer vehicle.
Biden stood solemnly, hand on heart, as body after body was carried past him.
President Joe Biden attended on Sunday the dignified transfer of the remains of service members killed in the Kabul airport attack
The remains were transported and unloaded from a C-17 Globemaster plane
His eyes fixed on each transfer case as it move from plane to van, first lady Jill Biden beside him. From time to time he bowed his head as if in silent prayer.
The only other sounds were the quiet commands of honor guards in battle dress and white gloves who carried the cases, and the hum of the C-17 aircraft.
‘The 13 service members that we lost were heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of our highest American ideals and while saving the lives of others,’ he said in a statement a day earlier.
‘Their bravery and selflessness has enabled more than 117,000 people at risk to reach safety thus far.’
Their deaths, killed by an ISIS-K suicide bomber on Thursday, as they protected an airlift of Americans and vulnerable Afghans, brought into stark focus the risks of ending the U.S. war in Afghanistan and the potential political cost to Biden.
The withdrawal of U.S. forces allowed the Taliban to regain power, after an almost 20-year war and the cost of 2,400 American military lives.
International allies have openly accused the president of blindsiding them with his rush to exit by August 31.
And his handling of the crisis – blaming Afghan troops for failing to fight the Taliban and his predecessor’s peace deal with the enemy – triggered withering criticism from all sides at home.
Parts of a destroyed vehicle are seen inside a house after U.S. drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. A U.S. drone strike destroyed a vehicle carrying “multiple suicide bombers” from Afghanistan’s Islamic State affiliate on Sunday before they could attack the ongoing military evacuation at Kabul’s international airport, American officials said
But there was nothing worse than the verdict of a grieving mother.
‘[He was] getting ready to come home from freaking Jordan to be with his wife to watch the birth of his son,’ Kathy McCollum said in a radio interview on Friday of her 20-year-old late son Rylee. ‘
‘And that sackless, dementia ridden piece of crap just sent my son to die.’
Risks remain. On Sunday, a U.S. drone strike blew up a vehicle carrying ‘multiple suicide bombers’ in Kabul, according to U.S. officials, before they could launch another attack on the airport.
It was the second strike carried out since the airport bombing, following an attack the Pentagon said killed an ISIS-K facilitator and a planner.
Biden flew back to Washington DC on Sunday afternoon for a FEMA briefing on Hurricane Ida, which made landfall in Louisiana.
He began his remarks by saying that he had just come from Dover.
‘We met with the families of 13 fallen heroes in Afghanistan who lost their lives in their service of our country and while we’re praying for the best in Louisiana, let’s keep them in our prayers as well,’ he said.
And he urged people in the path of the storm to seek safety.
‘This is going to be a devastating devastating hurricane, a life threatening storm,’ he said.
‘So please, all you folks, and in Mississippi and Louisiana, Mississippi and God knows, maybe even further east, take precautions.’
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