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Biden, Johnson discuss military withdrawal in Afghanistan

The president and the U.K. prime minister spoke Tuesday in Biden's first conversation with a foreign leader since the Taliban took control of Kabul.
Image: President Joe Biden walks to Marine One at Fort McNair after returning to the White House on Aug. 16, 2021.
President Joe Biden walks to Marine One at Fort McNair in Washington as he returns to the White House on Monday.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden spoke with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday about the chaos in Afghanistan.

In a readout of the call, the White House said the two leaders discussed "the need for continued close coordination among allies and democratic partners on Afghanistan policy going forward, including ways the global community can provide further humanitarian assistance and support for refugees and other vulnerable Afghans."

They also agreed to hold a virtual meeting of the Group of Seven leading industrialized countries next week to "discuss a common strategy and approach."

At a news briefing earlier Tuesday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that Biden had not spoken with any foreign leaders but that he, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other officials were in contact with their foreign counterparts.

"Right now, the main issue is an operational issue," Sullivan said. "It's about how we coordinate with them to help them get their people out. And we are operating through logistical channels and policy channels to try to make that happen."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in the same briefing that if there was a "benefit in the president picking up the phone and calling a world leader, he will certainly do that."

Sullivan said the U.S. was not yet ready to say whether it recognized the Taliban's government, saying the situation in Afghanistan is "chaotic" and adding that "ultimately, it's going to be up to the Taliban to show the rest of the world who they are and how they intend to proceed."

The Taliban seized control of Kabul, the capital, on Sunday after President Ashraf Ghani left the country, bringing an abrupt end to the 20-year U.S. effort to restructure the government and its military.

Within hours of the takeover, chaos erupted at Kabul's international airport as desperate Afghans raced to flee. A harrowing video recorded Monday showed people storming the military side of the airport and clinging to a U.S. Air Force plane as it tried to move down the tarmac. In the video, some people appear to fall to their deaths as the aircraft takes off.

Biden defended his administration's decision to continue with the U.S. military drawdown Monday, blaming the U.S.-backed government and military for allowing the Taliban to take over.

Biden said in his speech that China and Russia "would love nothing more than the United States to continue to funnel billions of dollars in resources and attention into stabilizing Afghanistan indefinitely."

China and Russia have tried to take advantage of the U.S.'s frenzied withdrawal, with state-run media outlets portraying the U.S. as an unreliable partner.

Russia and China have kept their embassies in Afghanistan, while many Western countries have pulled out. China and Russia both hold veto power on the U.N. Security Council, meaning they could block proposals for new U.N. sanctions on the Taliban.

Blinken spoke to China and Russia this week about the security situation in the country.