Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged Sunday that al Qaeda still has a presence in Afghanistan as administration officials struggled to defend President Biden’s insistence that the terrorist group is “gone.”
Mr. Blinken defended the president’s comment by saying that al Qaeda’s ability to carry out an attack on U.S. soil was “vastly, vastly diminished,” but admitted under questioning that the Islamist extremist group behind 9/11 was still in Afghanistan.
“Are there al Qaeda members and remnants in Afghanistan? Yes,” Mr. Blinken said on “Fox News Sunday” after being pressed by host Chris Wallace.
Mr. Biden has been repeatedly challenged for defending Friday his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan by saying, “Look, let’s put this thing in perspective. What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point, with al Qaeda gone?”
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan pushed back after CNN “State of the Union” host Brianna Keiler asked why Mr. Biden was “misleading with his words.”
“First of all, I reject that characterization,” said Mr. Sullivan. “With respect to al Qaeda, right now, our intelligence community does not believe that al Qaeda in Afghanistan represents a threat to the United States homeland. That’s what the president was referring to.”
In a Saturday fact-check, CNN noted that Pentagon press secretary John Kirby contradicted Mr. Biden’s comment shortly thereafter, telling reporters that, “We know that al Qaeda is a presence, as well as ISIS, in Afghanistan, and we’ve talked about that for quite some time.”