WASHINGTON: What did the President know and when did he know it? The searching query that underscored the Watergate scandal is scorching Washington again after remarks by US President Joe Biden that he was never told that such a rapid collapse in Afghanistan was possible was contested by leaks claiming there were warnings and red flags galore that Taliban would overrun Kabul if the US left too quickly.
Under attack for the botched withdrawal that has stranded thousands of Americans and Afghan cohorts in the strife-torn country, Biden is scheduled address the issue later on Friday, with vice-president Kamala Harris -- who is also under fire for being indifferent to the plight of women -- by his side.
Harris is scheduled to leave on an Asia trip, with stops in Singapore and Vietnam, later in the day, trailed by exhortation contained in a letter signed by 85 individuals and groups urging her to "take actions to protect Afghan women and girls and to address this unfolding human rights and humanitarian catastrophe."
The crisis buffeting the Biden-Harris administration comes amid a continuing stand-off in Kabul where US forces are struggling to evacuate Americans stranded outside the airport perimeter controlled by Taliban.
Reports of periodic skirmishes and firing point to a tense situation, with a CNN correspondent on the spot saying "it is very hard to be an American here."
At home, President Biden is under several scrutiny after the leak of an internal memo sent though the state department's dissent channel that warned Washington of a potential collapse of Kabul soon after the August 31 troop withdrawal deadline.
The July 13 cable signed by a dozen diplomats, first reported in the Wall Street Journal, warned of rapid territorial gains by the Taliban and the subsequent collapse of Afghan security forces, while offering recommendations to mitigate the crisis and speed up an evacuation.
Critics of the Biden dispensation say the administration failed to address the urgency of the situation even as it is scrambling to streamline the evacuation, sending special teams to Kabul, Qatar, and Kuwait to help in the effort.
Political sniping has intensified in Washington with Biden supporters maintaining that it was the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban committing to an early withdrawal that tied the hands of the incoming President.
“Our secretary of state (Mike Pompeo) signed a surrender agreement with the Taliban. This collapse goes back to the capitulation agreement of 2020. The Taliban didn’t defeat us. We defeated ourselves.” Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, was quoted saying in a podcast.
Another Trump administration official, former Defense Secretary Mike Asper, told CNN that while Biden “owns” the ultimate outcome in Afghanistan, former President Trump had “undermined” the agreement through his barely disguised impatience to withdraw forces with little regard for the consequences.