By Zachary Stieber
President Joe Biden’s top spokesperson is out of the office for a week as the president stays silent on the Taliban overthrowing the government in Afghanistan.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki says she’s “out of the office” from Aug. 15 to Aug. 22, according to an automated email message The Epoch Times received early Monday in response to questions.
“In my absence,” Psaki wrote, inquirers should reach out to other White House spokespeople, including deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
A followup message sent to the other spokespeople didn’t yield a response.
Fox News first reported on Psaki being away.
The Taliban seized the presidential palace in Kabul on Sunday as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled Kabul, the country’s capital.
Taliban officials declared the conflict between the terrorist group and Afghan forces over. The Taliban is prepared to declare the nation the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, a highly placed source told The Epoch Times.
At the same time, the U.S. Embassy warned Americans still in Kabul to “shelter in place” as the airport there reportedly took fire from Taliban fighters. Video footage also showed Afghans storming the airport in an attempt to get onto flights leaving the country.
The major developments, coming as the United States worked on completing its withdrawal after two decades in the country, have not received a public address from Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, or Psaki.
Harris, the last person in the room when Biden chose to withdraw from Afghanistan, has not spoken publicly since Aug. 10. Psaki, who typically briefs the press daily on weekdays, hasn’t held a press conference since Aug. 11. Biden went to Wilmington, Delaware, and later Camp David, Maryland, after making remarks on prescription drug pricing on Aug. 12.
This morning, the President and Vice President met with their national security team and senior officials to hear updates on the draw down of our civilian personnel in Afghanistan, evacuations of SIV applicants and other Afghan allies, and the ongoing security situation in Kabul. pic.twitter.com/U7IpK3Hyj8
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) August 15, 2021
Biden didn’t take questions when leaving for Delaware or for Camp David. He last spoke in real-time about Afghanistan on Aug. 10, telling reporters that he didn’t regret greenlighting the U.S. withdrawal and that Afghan fighters would have to “fight for themselves, fight for their nation.”
In a written statement on Saturday, Biden said he was in close contact with his national security team and giving them direction “on how to protect our interests and values as we end our military mission in Afghanistan.”
The president said he authorized the deployment of some 5,000 U.S. troops to help evacuate Americans and allied personnel, as well as Afghans who assisted troops over the past years.
He also said that U.S. officials had conveyed to the Taliban that any action they took that put U.S. personnel or the U.S. mission at risk “will be met with a swift and strong U.S. military response.”
He also defended the U.S. pullout, saying he faced a choice when he became president: following through on a deal former President Donald Trump cut with the Taliban, or sending more troops to Afghanistan.
“I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan—two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth,” he said.
On Sunday, the White House posted a picture of Biden alone in a room at Camp David holding a briefing with top officials at other sites, including Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Harris, as well as CIA personnel and U.S. intelligence officials in Doha, Qatar.
“This morning, the President and Vice President met with their national security team and senior officials to hear updates on the draw down of our civilian personnel in Afghanistan, evacuations of SIV applicants and other Afghan allies, and the ongoing security situation in Kabul,” the White House said. SIV stands for Special Immigrant Visas.
Biden’s lack of a public address on what’s happening has triggered criticism from some, including Republican members of Congress.
“I’m stunned at what’s missing- where is Pres Biden? How is he MIA during this generational foreign policy crisis? We have a total leadership vacuum that is humiliating + inexcusable. Especially in these impossible times, we need leaders who will stand up and be counted!” Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) wrote on Twitter.
“President Biden owes the American public an explanation as to why he led from behind and allowed terrorists to prevail,” Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) said in a statement.
Psaki’s absence also drew some attention.
“Biden is out of sight and emails to the White House press secretary get an out-of-office reply,” Tim Murtaugh, the communications director for Trump’s 2020 campaign, said on social media.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken did appear on a Sunday talk show, pushing back on criticism of the administration.
“The fact of the matter is this, we went to Afghanistan 20 years ago with one mission in mind, and that was to deal with the people who attacked on 9/11. And that mission has been successful. We brought Bin Laden to justice a decade ago. Al-Qaeda, the group that attacked us, has been vastly diminished. Its capacity to attack us again from Afghanistan right now, does not exist. And we’re going to make sure that we keep in place in the region the capacity, the forces necessary to see any reemergence of a terrorist threat, and to be able to deal with it,” he said.
Still, Blinken acknowledged that the Afghan forces “proved incapable of defending the country.”
“And that did happen more rapidly than we anticipated,” he said.
The Pentagon and the State Department later Sunday said that they were securing the Hamaz Karzai International Airport in Kabul to enable the safe departure of U.S. and allied personnel, bumping up the number of troops there by nearly 1,000, after abandoning Bagram Air Base.
“Tomorrow and over the coming days, we will be transferring out of the country thousands of American citizens who have been resident in Afghanistan, as well as locally employed staff of the U.S. mission in Kabul and their families and other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals,” the agencies said. “And we will accelerate the evacuation of thousands of Afghans eligible for U.S. Special Immigrant Visas, nearly 2,000 of whom have already arrived in the United States over the past two weeks. For all categories, Afghans who have cleared security screening will continue to be transferred directly to the United States. And we will find additional locations for those yet to be screened.”