US President Joe Biden says even with the Taliban in power in Afghanistan, he sees a greater threat from outposts of Al Qaeda and its affiliated groups in other countries, and that it was no longer "rational" to continue to focus US military power there.
"We should be focusing on where the threat is the greatest," Mr Biden said in an interview that aired on ABC's Good Morning America on Thursday.
"And the idea we can continue to spend a trillion dollars, and have tens of thousands of American forces in Afghanistan, when we have North Africa and Western Africa — the idea we can do that and ignore those looming problems, growing problems, is not rational."
Mr Biden has said repeatedly that America will not send significantly more forces to fight in Afghanistan. The US has not had tens of thousands there for several years and had 2500 to 3000 deployed there when Mr Biden took office.
Mr Biden named Syria and East Africa as places where the Islamic State group poses a "significantly greater threat" than in Afghanistan and said that ISIS has "metastasised."
He said while the US doesn't have a sizeable military presence in a place like Syria, it does have an "over the horizon capability to take them out".
The comments come as the Biden administration has faced sharp criticism for the timing and direction of the Afghanistan withdrawal, after the Taliban came to power more quickly than administration officials predicted.
The swift takeover by the Taliban prompted scenes of chaos and violence as thousands of Afghans and Americans sought to flee the country.
Mr Biden also pushed back against concerns about the treatment of women and girls in the country, arguing that it's "not rational" to try to protect women's rights around the globe through military force.
Instead, it should be done through "diplomatic and international pressure" on human rights abusers to change their behaviour.
Up to 15,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan after the Taliban took full control of the nation last weekend.
Mr Biden said during the same interview that he's committed to keeping US troops in Afghanistan until every American is evacuated, even if that means maintaining a military presence beyond his August 31 deadline for withdrawal.
Pressed repeatedly on how the administration would help Americans left in the nation after August 31, Mr Biden said, "If there's American citizens left, we're gonna stay till we get them all out."
Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Wednesday that the US military does not have the forces and firepower in Afghanistan to expand its current mission from securing the Kabul airport to collecting Americans and at-risk Afghans elsewhere in the capital and escorting them for evacuation.
The question of whether those seeking to leave the country before Mr Biden's deadline should be rescued and brought to the airport has arisen amid reports that Taliban checkpoints have stopped some designated evacuees.
"I don't have the capability to go out and extend operations currently into Kabul," Mr Austin said.
"And where do you take that? How far do you extend into Kabul, and how long does it take to flow those forces in to be able to do that?"
Mr Austin, a retired four-star Army general who commanded forces in Afghanistan, spoke at his first Pentagon news conference since the Taliban swept to power in Kabul on Sunday.
He said the State Department was sending more consular affairs officers to speed up the processing of evacuees.
"We're not close to where we want to be" in terms of the pace of the airlift, Austin said.
He said he was mainly focused on the airport, which faced "a number of threats" that must be monitored.
"We cannot afford to either not defend that airfield or not have an airfield that's secure, where we have hundreds or thousands of civilians that can access the airfield," he said, adding that talks with the Taliban were continuing to ensure safe passage for those evacuating.
Austin said there were about 4500 US troops at the airport, maintaining security to enable the State Department-run evacuation operation that has been marked by degrees of chaos and confusion.
Mr Biden, however, told ABC that there wasn't anything his administration could have done to avoid such chaos.
"The idea that somehow, there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don't know how that happens," he said.
Senior US military officers were talking to Taliban commanders in Kabul about checkpoints and curfews that have limited the number of Americans and Afghans able to enter the airport.
John Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said that over 24 hours about 2000 people, including 325 American citizens, had left aboard 18 flights by US Air Force C-17 transport planes. The number of departing Air Force flights was likely to be similar in the coming 24 hours, Mr Kirby said, although he said he could not estimate how many people they would carry.
Nearly 6000 people had been evacuated by the US military since Saturday, a White House official said Wednesday night (Thursday AEST).
Kriby said the administration was considering its options for dealing with a separate but related problem — the abandonment by Afghan security forces of an array of military equipment, weapons and aircraft that have fallen into the hands of the Taliban or other militant groups.
"We don't, obviously, want to see our equipment in the hands of those who would act against our interests or the interests of the Afghan people and increase violence and insecurity inside Afghanistan," Mr Kirby said.
"There are numerous policy choices that can be made, up to and including destruction."
He said those decisions had not yet been made.