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Biden administration gets on the same page after days of finger-pointing on Afghanistan

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin And Army Secretary Gen. Mark Milley Hold Briefing At Pentagon
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley participate in a news briefing at the Pentagon August 18, 2021 in Arlington, Va.Alex Wong / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — It’s taken them a few days, but the Biden White House, Pentagon and intel community now finally appear to be on the same page when it comes to Afghanistan.

The Afghan military/government collapse was faster than they anticipated, they say.

And chaos was always inevitable once the United States withdrew from Afghanistan.

Here was Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley yesterday: “I am very familiar with the intelligence, and in war nothing is ever certain, but I can tell you that there are not reports that I am aware of that predicted a security force of 300,000 would evaporate in 11 days from 6 August to 16 August with the capture of 34 provinces and the capital city of Kabul.”

Here was a statement from a senior U.S. intelligence official, per NBC’s Mike Memoli: “We consistently identified the risk of a rapid collapse of the Afghan government. We also grew more pessimistic about the government’s survival as the fighting season progressed. This was less an issue of Afghan military capabilities and more a reflection of Afghan leadership, cohesion and willpower. That said, the Afghan government unraveled even more quickly than we anticipated.”

And here was President Biden in his interview with ABC: “[T]he idea that somehow there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don't know how that happens.”

With congressional hearings coming, this might be the safest ground — politically and message-wise — for the Biden administration.

Yes, there was intelligence that the Afghan government/military could collapse, but nothing saying it would happen this fast.

And yes, there’s been plenty of televised and reported chaos, but there always was going to be chaos from any withdrawal.

Was chaos inevitable in Afghanistan or not?

But there is one big hole in Biden’s argument that chaos was always inevitable.

He wasn’t saying that a month ago when he was touting the size of the Afghan government’s army.

“The Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped — as well-equipped as any army in the world — and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban. [A Taliban takeover] is not inevitable.”

Or when he also was dismissing comparisons to the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.

“There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy in the — of the United States from Afghanistan.”

Or when he was saying it was unlikely the Taliban would take full control of the country.

“But the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”

If chaos was always priced into the U.S. withdrawal, then Biden should have said that before the chaos happened.

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Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

Approximately 1,800: The number of people the U.S. evacuated out of Afghanistan on Wednesday, per the Biden White House.

53,772 acres: The size of the Caldor Fire, which exploded more than 8 times its size in just one day.

-11: The number of available intensive care unit beds in Alabama, according a top hospital official, as of late Tuesday.

1.3 million: The approximate number of nursing home staff who will be required to be vaccinated under new federal rules or their facilities could lose funding.

37,323,245: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 156,059 since yesterday morning.)

628,037: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 1,016 since yesterday morning).

358,599,835: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 704,840 since yesterday morning.)

51 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

61.9 percent: The share of all American adults at least 18 years of age who are fully vaccinated, per CDC.

Murphy’s up big in New Jersey

While Virginia and California are getting most of the political attention, New Jersey also has a gubernatorial contest this fall.

A Monmouth University poll released on Wednesday has incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy leading GOP challenger Jack Ciattarelli by 16 points among registered voters, 52 percent to 36 percent.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

As the U.S. promotes booster shots against Covid, some are raising moral questions over vaccine equity.

President Biden is using his Education Department to fight GOP governors who want to block mask mandates in schools.

Health officials say Alabama has no more ICU beds available during the Covid surge.

Former President Trump’s PAC polled a hypothetical GOP primary against sitting Gov. Brian Kemp, as the president has continued to criticize Kemp over the 2020 election results.

A judge tossed the Trump-era approval for an Alaska oil project over concerns about its effects.

The nation’s largest Democratic training organization announced some of the party’s rising stars will co-chair the organization.