President Joe Biden and other top U.S. officials have been stunned by the pace of the Taliban’s nearly complete takeover of Afghanistan.

The speed of the Afghan government’s collapse and the ensuing chaos posed the most serious test of Biden as commander in chief.

Biden has spent months downplaying the prospect of an ascendant Taliban while arguing that Americans of all political persuasions have tired of a 20-year war.

By Sunday, though, leading figures in the administration acknowledged they were caught off guard with the utter speed of the collapse of Afghan security forces.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday that Afghanistan fell faster than the administration expected, and blamed the government’s fall on the Afghans themselves.

“It is certainly the case that the speed with which cities fell was much greater than anyone anticipated,” Sullivan said Monday on NBC’s “Today.”

But he said the U.S. ultimately could not give Afghan security forces the “will” to fight to defend their fledgling democracy from the Taliban.

“At the end of the day, despite the fact that we spent 20 years and tens of billions of dollars to give the best equipment, the best training and the best capacity to the Afghan security forces, we could not give them the will and they ultimately decided that they would not fight for Kabul and they would not fight for the country,” Sullivan said.

Biden remained at Camp David on Monday, receiving regular briefings on Afghanistan and holding secure video conference calls with members of his national security team, according to senior White House officials. His administration released a single photo of the president on Sunday alone in a conference room meeting virtually with military, diplomatic and intelligence experts.

Biden has been at the Camp David presidential retreat, and largely out of public view, since Friday. He was scheduled to stay there through Wednesday.

Biden will likely have to explain how security in Afghanistan unraveled so quickly, especially since he and others in the administration have insisted it wouldn’t happen.

“The jury is still out, but the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely,” Biden said on July 8.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who has backed the Biden administration’s strategy, said in an interview that “the speed is a surprise”. He said it has long been known that Afghanistan would fall to the Taliban if the United States pulled out.

“Given how much we have invested in the Afghan army, it’s not ridiculous for analysts to believe that they’d be able to put up a fight for more than a few days,” Murphy said. “You want to believe that trillions of dollars and 20 years of investment adds up to something, even if it doesn’t add up for the ability to defend the country in the long run.”

(Source: The Associated Press)

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