Kamala Harris dodged questions on whether her administration had made mistakes in its Afghanistan withdrawal during a press conference in Singapore on Monday.
Instead the vice president said the White House is focused on evacuating all Americans and Afghan allies and insisted there would be plenty of time to analyze the botched removal of troops that’s caused chaos in Kabul.
Harris met with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Halimah Yacob during a trip aimed at bolstering ties with partners in the region as part of Washington’s efforts to counter China’s growing economic and security influence.
She dodged questions about whether US credibility had been damaged by the Afghan debacle, saying only her government’s focus was on evacuations.
‘There is going to be plenty of time to analyze what has happened and what has taken place in the context of the withdrawal from Afghanistan,’ Harris said during a joint news conference with Singapore’s prime minister.
‘But right now we are singularly focused on evacuating American citizens, Afghans who have worked with us and Afghans who are vulnerable, including women and children and that is our singular focus at this time,’ said Harris.
It was the first time she publicly addressed the crisis unfolding in the Middle East, aside from laughing off a reporter’s question as she boarded Air Force 2.
Her comments came just hours after cut off a reporter seemingly trying to ask her about Afghanistan with her signature laugh, adding ‘slow down, everybody.’
As she boarded the plane to Singapore for her tour of Singapore and Vietnam, Harris said Afghanistan ‘couldn’t have a higher priority.
In a newly-unearthed part of a chat with reporters filmed as Harris prepared to depart for Singapore, the Vice President displays her infamous nervous laugh before flying, the Washington Examiner reported.
‘What’s your response to reports of Americans-‘ an eager reporter says over the jet engines noise.
‘Hold on, hold on, hold on,’ Harris said before the reporter could finish.
‘Slow down, everybody,’ she said after a big laugh.
‘I want to talk about two things,’ Harris then said. ‘First, Afghanistan, we couldn’t have a higher priority right now,’
‘And in particular high priority is making sure that we safely evacuate American citizens, Afghans who worked with us, Afghans at risk, including women and children, and that is one of our highest if not the highest priority right now.’
‘And it’s a big area of focus for me in the past days and weeks, and will continue to be,’ she added.
Because the reporter was never allowed to finish her question, it’s not clear what she was going to ask Harris specifically. However, it sounded like she was going to ask Harris about the Americans trapped in Afghanistan.
‘There is going to be plenty of time to analyze what has happened and what has taken place in the context of the withdrawal from Afghanistan,’ Harris said during a joint news conference with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
The video of Kamala laughing was shared hours after Joe Biden laughed when questioned by a reporter about his poor performance in a new poll during a White House press conference about the Afghan crisis and Tropical Storm Henri.
He said of the survey: ‘I haven’t seen that poll.’
U.S. President Joe Biden has taken heat from across the world over his handling of the withdrawal of U.S. forces and the chaotic evacuation after the lightning takeover by the Taliban.
‘We hope Afghanistan does not become an epicenter for terrorism again,’ said Lee, adding that Singapore had offered transport aircraft to help with evacuations.
Harris initially claimed to have had a key role and that she was ‘the last person in the room’ when Biden chose to follow through with the May 1 deadline to retreat US troops from Afghanistan.
But her remarkable absence and lack of communication with the media and the American public have not escaped backlash, as 47% of likely voters found her ‘not at all qualified’ to become President, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll.
Part of Harris’s task during the trip will be convincing leaders in Singapore and Vietnam that Washington’s commitment to Southeast Asia is firm and not a parallel to Afghanistan.
‘Today, we are in Singapore to stress and reaffirm our enduring relationship to this country and in this region, and to reinforce a shared vision of a free and open Indo Pacific region,’ Harris said.
Singapore’s Lee said that perceptions of U.S. resolve and commitment to the region would be determined by ‘what the U.S. does going forward, how it repositions itself in the region, how it engages its broad range of friends and partners and allies…’
Singapore is not a U.S. treaty ally, but remains one of its strongest security partners in the region with deep trade ties. However, it also seeks to balance its relationships with the United States and China by not taking sides.
The country is home to the biggest port in Southeast Asia, and supports continued free navigation in the area, where China is growing increasingly assertive – a concern U.S. officials plan to address during Harris’ visit to the region, which also includes a trip to Vietnam.
‘I reaffirmed in our meeting the United States’ commitment to working with our allies and partners around the Indo Pacific to uphold the rules based international order, and freedom of navigation, including in the South China Sea,’ said Harris.
The disputed South China Sea, a strategic waterway with potential oil and gas riches, has competing claims by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.
SECURITY, CYBER AGREEMENTS
The United States and Singapore reached security agreements on Monday that reaffirm America’s presence in the region through ‘rotational deployments of U.S. P-8 aircraft and littoral combat ships to Singapore,’ according to a fact sheet of the meeting shared by the White House.
The United States and Singapore also agreed to expand cybersecurity cooperation in the financial sector, the military and enhance information exchange on cyber threats, according to details shared by the White House.
Cybersecurity has risen to the top of the agenda for the Biden administration after a series of high-profile attacks that affected fuel and food supplies in parts of the United States.
Other initiatives include starting a U.S.-Singapore dialogue on building supply chains.
The Biden White House is tackling a severe supply shortage of semiconductor chips in the United States that has seriously hurt car manufacturers and contributed to inflation.
The countries also struck a partnership to fight COVID-19 and prepare for the next pandemic and agreed to tackle the global climate crisis, promote smart cities and green building standards throughout ASEAN.
Harris will also visit Singapore’s Changi Naval Base and tour the USS Tulsa combat ship during the trip to Singapore.
Earlier on Monday, Harris boasted that ‘the US is a global leader’ and vows ‘enduring engagement’ in Asia while chaos unfolds in Afghanistan with the Taliban taking over following America’s withdrawal.
During a visit to Singapore on Monday, she offered reassurances of Washington’s commitment to the region, just days after the hardline Islamists seized power in Kabul.
‘Our administration is committed to enduring engagement in Singapore, into Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific,’ Harris said, despite the President receiving widespread condemnation for his handling of the removal of troops from Afghanistan.
She added: ‘The reason I am here is because the United States is a global leader, and we take that role seriously.’
This comes after the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover has caused chaos in Kabul, with reports of 20 people being killed in the past week.
The Taliban’s swift return to power, and desperate scenes of people trying to flee Kabul airport, have cast another shadow over the United States’ status as a superpower.
Temperatures have been between 85 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit around the airport nearly every day as the desperate mob of tens of thousands of people with young kids try to save their families from Taliban attacks, stampedes or being crushed against the airport gates.
Vice President Kamala Harris has boasted that ‘the US is a global leader’ and vows ‘enduring engagement’ in Asia after arriving in Singapore (pictured with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong)
Harris visited the USS Tulsa in Singapore on Monday, and met with service men on the boat, during her week-long trip to the country
During a visit to the country on Monday, she offered reassurances of Washington’s commitment to the region, just days after the hardline Islamists seized power in Kabul
Harris nervously laughed and cut off a reporter, before saying that Afghanistan was a priority issue, as she boarded a flight to Singapore
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong welcomed the vice president’s reassurances during their two hour meeting on Monday.
He said Singapore was offering a military aircraft to help in the chaotic evacuation from Kabul airport overseen by the US army.
But he also expressed hopes that ‘Afghanistan does not become an epicenter for terrorism again.’
Biden’s administration is seeking to reset relationships in Asia after the turbulent Trump era, and project Washington as a stabilizing force in the face of growing Chinese aggression.
But analysts say the seizure of power by the Taliban, notorious for their brutal 1996-2001 rule, and rapid collapse of US-trained Afghan forces have caused fresh concerns about US dependability.
Harris is also facing criticism for being tone-deaf in going ahead with a visit to Vietnam as US forces struggle to evacuate tens of thousands of people.
The crisis has prompted comparisons with the trauma of 1975 in Saigon, when US helicopters ferried final evacuees from the embassy roof, as Viet Cong troops advanced.
She spoke to troops on the ship during her time in the country, which has come with backlash, but US officials insist the trip was planned long before the Afghan crisis
Harris arrived in Singapore on Sunday for the week-long trip to Asia, which also includes a stop in Vietnam, where she will be meeting officials
But US officials insist the trip was planned long before the Afghan crisis and is focused on Washington’s broader strategic goals in Asia.
Harris arrived in Singapore on Sunday for the week-long trip to Asia, which also includes a stop in Vietnam, as the humanitarian crisis unfolds in Afghanistan.
She nervously laughed and dismissed a reporter’s inquiry as she headed to Southeast Asia late Friday amid chaos in the Middle East.
Criticism of Biden’s handling of the situation mounted after global commentators and liberal media have branded his rush exit ‘shameful’ and a ‘stain on our nation’s integrity’.
Even as Harris touched down in Singapore, the US and German forces joined in a gun battle at Kabul airport after Afghan guards and unknown assailants exchanged fire, with one guard killed, the German army said.
The gunfire broke out near the airport’s northern gate, where at least seven Afghans died a day earlier in a panicked stampede of thousands of people trying to flee the country. The circumstances of the shooting, which occurred around dawn, remained unclear.
Kabul airport has seen chaotic scenes as tens of thousands of foreigners and Afghans seek to flee Afghanistan after the Taliban swept back to power more than a week ago.
Harris has praised President Biden’s decision to honor Trump’s deal with the Taliban to retreat from Afghanistan
And the Democrats were hit with a further optics issue Sunday, as Nancy Pelosi was filmed at a lavish Democrat fundraiser dinner in Napa, California, which cost up to $29,000-a-head to respond.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives – who is third in line to become president if Biden and Harris are incapacitated – was filmed addressing lavishly-set tables groaning with fresh flowers, smart cutlery and expensive looking food.
On Sunday, President Biden chuckled after getting some bad poll results from a reporter, who said that the CBS News/YouGov poll was ‘out there’ after the president insisted that he hadn’t seen it
Nancy Pelosi speaks at a ritzy Napa Valley fundraiser while the situation in Kabul worsens
Harris has stood by President Biden’s decision to honor Trump’s deal with the Taliban.
‘This is a president who has an extraordinary amount of courage,’
‘He is someone, who I have seen over and over again, make decisions based on what he truly believes… is the right thing to do,’ she said about the removal of the troops on a CNN interview.
The current administration has received backlash for its response to the Taliban takeover, amid reports of Americans and Afghan refugees being attacked by the Islamic extremists while trying to enter Kabul’s Hamid Karzai Airport.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was also blasted after people emailing her received an automatic ‘out of office’ reply as the increasingly tense situation unfolds.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris arrives at Paya Lebar Air Base in Singapore August 22, 2021
It is not the first time Harris’ distinctive nervous laugh causes her to be the target of criticism.
On March, Harris was blasted after she laughed when a reporter asked if she planned to visit the southern border amid the migrant crisis.
‘Do you plan to visit the border?’ asked the reporter before Harris took a flight at Jacksonville International Airport.
‘Um, not today,’ said Harris before letting out a laugh,
‘But I have before and I sure will again,’ she said as she evaded a definitive answer.
In June, she went to Guatemala and Mexico for meetings on the ‘root causes’ of the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border – a trip which was overshadowed by repeated questions as to why she was yet to visit the border herself.
Under pressure, she did several weeks later.
Harris notoriously laughed at the 2020 vice presidential debate, after being asked if she planned to support expanding the Supreme Court so a Democratic president could nominate more liberal justices
A new poll shows 55 per cent of likely voters believe Vice President Kamala Harris is ‘not qualified’ or ‘not at all qualified’ to run the nation. There was a 6 per cent drop in those who feel she is qualified from April to August
Harris also notoriously laughed during the 2020 vice presidential debate, when she was asked if she planned to support expanding the Supreme Court so a Democratic president could nominate more liberal justices.
‘Once again you gave a non-answer, Joe Biden gave a non-answer,’
‘The American people deserve a straight answer. And if you haven’t figured it out yet, the straight answer is they are going to pack the Supreme Court if they somehow win this election,’ said an evidently upset Pence.
When inquired about the legalization of marijuana, Harris also evaded questions by repeatedly laughing when asked about her stance on the issue.
Government officials have said the Vice President will continue to work on Afghanistan while in Asia.
She is not returning directly to Washington DC on Friday, going home to California instead, to campaign on behalf of Governor Gavin Newsom.
Her departure at a time of crisis will likely fuel criticism against her.
Other senior figures like the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, National Security Adviser and Biden himself have been forced to defend their actions in repeated interviews and remarks.
Last week, when likely voters were asked in a Rasmussen Reports poll released Thursday if Harris is ready to be U.S. president, 47 per cent said she is ‘not at all qualified’ while 8 per cent said she’s ‘not qualified.’
No laughing matter, Joe: Biden chuckles when he’s asked about new poll showing majority of Americans think he’s no longer ‘competent, focused or effective’ after his catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan
President Joe Biden laughed off a question about his declining poll numbers amid the rising chaos in Afghanistan during a press conference in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Sunday.
‘I haven’t seen that poll,’ Biden said of a CBS News/YouGov survey that shows 74 percent of respondents believe withdrawal from the Taliban-overrun country has gone ‘very badly’ or ‘somewhat badly.’
Biden chuckled when the reporter responded that the poll is ‘out there,’ but the results are no laughing matter.
Biden’s withdrawal, which was announced by former President Donald Trump in February 2020, is down to 47 percent approval from 60 percent in July, before the Taliban inched their way into Kabul, took over the presidential palace and sent President Ashraf Ghani fleeing to the United Arab Emirates.
The sample of 2,142 Americans also find him to be less competent, focused and effective than in April.
Biden’s overall approval rating also took a tumble amid a surge in the Delta variant and the latest crisis in the Middle East, down to 50 percent from 62 percent in March.
‘Look, I had a basic decision to make,’ Biden said of his decision to withdraw.
On Sunday, President Biden chuckled after getting some bad poll results from a reporter, who said that the CBS News/YouGov poll was ‘out there’ after the president insisted that he hadn’t seen it
The survey of more than 2,000 Americans found that Biden’s approval rating and his handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal have fallen in recent months as the Taliban take over the country after 20 years of US occupation
‘I either withdraw America from a 20-year war, that … cost us $150 million a day for 20 years or $320 a day for 20 years.’ (Forbes estimates the war to have cost $300 million per day since September 11, 2001.)
He then reached for a card underneath his lapel and began reading from it.
‘You know I carry this card with me every day,’ he said.
He continued: ‘And, who, in fact, where we lost 2,448 Americans, dead, and 20,722 wounded.
‘Either increase the number of forces we keep there and keep that going, all right, end the war, and I decided to end the war.
‘As I said the other day, the only reason we’re in Afghanistan is this is the place from which Bin Laden attacked the United States of America.’
In May 2011, a team of US Navy SEALs captured and killed Osama Bin Laden, who had planned the September 11 attacks that destroyed the Twin Towers in Manhattan and killed 3,000 people, at a compound in Pakistan.
‘So the question is when is the right time to leave? Where are our national interests? Where do they lie?’
Biden went on to liken terrorism to a cancer that had ‘metastasized’ around the world, and insisted that it can be fought without ‘permanently basing’ American forces anywhere.
‘My job is to make judgments no one else can or will make,’ he said.
‘I made them, I’m convinced I’m absolutely correct in not deciding to send more young women and men to war for a war that is, in fact, no longer warranted.’
Most Americans are still with the president on leaving the country, with 63 percent still in favor of removing US troops.
Biden also revealed US forces may stay beyond his deadline of Aug. 31 as he tries to accelerate the operation to rescue Americans after days of chaos and crushes at Kabul airport.
He said that U.S. forces had expanded the perimeter around the airport amid fears terrorists may seek to exploit the operation by attacking Americans or Afghan civilians.
But things were moving in the right direction with some 33,000 people brought to safety, he said.
‘Let me be clear – the evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul is going to be hard and painful,’ Biden said during a speech at the White House.
‘No matter when it started, when we began, it would have been true if we had started a month ago, or a month from now.
‘There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss and heartbreaking images you see on television.
‘It’s just a fact.’
His speech marked the latest attempt by the White House to seize control of a crisis that is rapidly turning into a humanitarian and political disaster.
A similar effort on Friday backfired when Biden claimed that he knew of no cases of Americans being stopped from reaching Kabul airport – only to be flatly contradicted by the Pentagon.
Things have only worsened since then, with reports that seven people died in the crush around the airport, including a two-year-old.
President Joe Biden says the United States is ‘working hard’ and as ‘fast as we can’ to get Americans and U.S. allies out of Afghanistan, noting that 33,000 people have been evacuated from the country since July
Speaking in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Biden said U.S. forces had extended the perimeter around the airport to improve security
Thousands of people surrounded the Kabul airport Sunday, desperate to take the steps needed to cross the threshold to sanctuary
The crowds have made it difficult and dangerous for Americans and Afghans with the correct paperwork to reach the airport
Biden said that as many as 33,000 people had been evacuated since July, including some 11,000 during a single 36-hour period.
Defense officials ‘hope’ they will not have to extend the evacuation operation, he added, but ‘there are going to be discussions I suspect on how far along we are in the process.’
He also said troops were maintaining constant vigilance against terrorist threats, particularly from the local affiliate of ISIS, sworn enemies of the both the U.S. and the Taliban.
‘The security threat is changing rapidly,’ he said.
‘There are civilians crowded at the airport, although we have cleared thousands of them.
‘We know that terrorists may seek to exploit the situation and target innocent Afghans or American troops .’
Every day that American troops and civilians are at the airport is another day of risk that terrorists launch an attack from distance.
But he said the Taliban had been helpful.
‘We discussed a lot with the Taliban,’ he said. ‘They’ve been cooperative in extending some of the perimeter.’
But he declined to describe further ‘technical changes’ designed to improve security.
‘So far the Taliban has not taken action against U.S. forces,’ he said, rapping his knuckles on the lectern as if knocking on wood.
‘So far they have, by and large, followed through on what they said in terms of Americans to pass through .
‘And I’m sure they don’t control all of their forces. It’s a rag tag force.
‘And so we’ll see if what they say turns out to be true.
Conditions deteriorated further at the weekend. The U.S. was forced to tell Americans not to try to brave the chaos around the airport unless they have been told to report.
And it emerged that evacuation flights were dropping flares and making steep combat landings after warnings that terrorists of the Islamic State might try to shoot down a plane.
Biden is still facing questions about why his administration did not have a better evacuation plan after being warned that the Taliban could sweep into Kabul within days.
Against that backdrop of criticism, the White House tried to show a president hard at work on a Sunday.
The Afghan interim council, formed to assist in the power transfer following President Ashraf Ghani’s escape, has met several Taliban leaders to discuss issues related to control and security during the transition process
President Biden met with his national security in the White House Situation Room on Sunday morning as they faced fresh questions about how much they knew of intelligence assessments that said the Taliban could be in Kabul within days
At least seven people have been killed at Kabul airport by stampeding crowds, as thousands of panicked Afghans try to flee the country, the British military said on Sunday
Afghans trying to flee are surrounding Kabul airport where the Taliban are using live rounds and beatings to maintain order. Americans were told not to try to reach the airport on Saturday
It sent out a situation room photograph of Biden meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other members of his national security team.
And earlier the Pentagon ordered six U.S. commercial airlines to help move evacuees from temporary sites outside of Afghanistan.
‘Our first priority in Kabul is getting American citizens out of the situation as quickly and safely as possible,’ Biden said.
‘Any American that wants to get home will get home.’
He also said the government was ‘looking to move our Afghan allies’ out of the country as well, noting that citizens of NATO allies and Afghan allies were amongst the 11,000 individuals evacuated this past weekend.
The president stated that as evacuation efforts are underway he wanted to be clear about three things: ‘One, planes taking off from Kabul are not flying directly to the United States,’ said Biden, explaining that the planes are landing at U.S. Military bases and transit centers around the world where security screenings will take place for non-citizens.
‘Two, at these sites where they are landing we are conducting scrutiny security screening for everyone who is not a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident.
‘Anyone arriving in the United States will have undergone a background check.’
He also noted that the government will welcome these individuals into the U.S.
‘Three, once screened and cleared we will welcome these Afghans we helped us in the war effort over the last 20 years,’ said Biden.
The Biden administration has given no firm estimate of the number of Americans seeking to leave Afghanistan. Some have put the total between 10,000 and 15.000.
A White House official said U.S. planes flew 3900 people out of Kabul in the previous 24 hours. Coalition aircraft rescued a similar number.
It marked a busier weekend for Biden than last, when he was slammed by allies and opponents for staying at Camp David last weekend as the crisis deepened.
And even international partners such as the United Kingdom have voiced their frustration this weekend at the way Biden pushed ahead with such a rapid withdrawal.
A former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan said the hasty retreat would embolden enemies, including terrorist groups.
‘It has damaged our alliances, emboldened our adversaries and increased the risk to our own security. It has also flouted 20 years of work and sacrifice,’ said Ryan Crocker in a New York Times essay.
This week Biden will join a virtual meeting of the G7 to discuss cooperation between the nations as the Taliban overruns Afghanistan, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in her statement on the upcoming meeting.
‘The leaders will discuss continuing our close coordination on Afghanistan policy and evacuating our citizens, the brave Afghans who stood with us over the last two decades, and other vulnerable Afghans,’ Psaki’s statement reads.
President Joe Biden will participate in a virtual meeting with G7 leaders on Tuesday to discuss the ongoing situation in Afghanistan
The call comes after Biden received a slew of backlash last week for not talking with any world leaders in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover. Hours after reports came out attacking him for his inaction, Biden spoke with Johnson.
The G7 intergovernmental group includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the U.S.
On Sunday afternoon, Biden will deliver remarks on Afghanistan – and Hurricane Henri response – at the White House.
Britain currently holds the rotating leadership of the G7 and announced earlier on Sunday that it called for the group to meet virtually this week.
The meeting comes as chaos in Afghanistan continues to unfold, and nations scramble to evacuate their citizens from Kabul.
So far, Biden has sent in 6,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to help with evacuation efforts after the Taliban was able to take over the country in just over a week. This means the U.S. has deployed more troops into Afghanistan than the number of American citizens it has extracted from the country since the Taliban swept into power on August 14.
The Pentagon said Saturday they were only able to evacuate 2,500 Americans from Kabul in the past week.
Overall, the U.S. was able to evacuate 7,000 people from the pandemonium at the Kabul airport since last weekend, including 3,800 in the last day.
Up to 15,000 Americans still need to be evacuated and the administration hopes to get out 50-60,000 more Afghan allies and their families.