President Biden addressed the nation Monday on the Afghanistan crisis for the first time since the rapid collapse of the Afghan government amid the Taliban seizing power in Kabul, staunchly defending his hastily decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the country while blaming everyone besides himself for the chaos that unfolded over the last few days.
“I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces,” Biden said in a 20-minute speech from the East Room of the White House Monday afternoon. “That’s why we’re still there. We were clear-eyed about the risks. We planned for every contingency.”
The president, despite admitting that the fall of the country to the Taliban over the weekend “did unfold more quickly” than anticipated, recalling the original goals of the American combat role in Afghanistan had been accomplished but stopped short of acknowledging his administration botched strategy that had rapidly led to the chaotic collapse of the country.
However, Biden framed his decision to leave Afghanistan as one that the American people want, and as president, “the buck stops” with him in ending America’s longest war after 20 long years.
“I am president of the United States, and the buck stops with me. I’m deeply saddened by the facts we now face, but I do not regret my decision to end America’s warfighting in Afghanistan,” Biden said. “I cannot, and I will not ask our troops to fight on endlessly in another country’s civil war… This is not in our national security interest. This is not what the American people want. I made a commitment to the American people when I ran for President that I would bring America’s military involvement in Afghanistan to an end. And while it’s been hard and messy — and yes, far from perfect — I’ve honored that commitment.”
The collapse of the Afghan forces occurred much faster than Washington had predicted, forcing Biden to rush thousands of U.S. troops to return to Kabul to assist in the evacuation of U.S. personnel and Afghan allies. Biden has authorized so far 6,000 U.S. troops to deploy back to Afghanistan before leaving Camp David to return to the White House early Monday afternoon.
“As we carry out this departure, we have made it clear to the Taliban: If they attack our personnel or disrupt our operation, the U.S. presence will be swift, and the response will be swift and forceful. We will defend our people with devastating force if necessary,” he said.
Biden then sought to place the blame largely at former President Donald Trump, arguing that his administration’s hands were tied by the plan his predecessor had set in motion last year in cutting a deal with the Taliban.
“When I came into office, I inherited a deal that President Trump negotiated with the Taliban,” Biden said. “Under his agreement, U.S forces would be out of Afghanistan by May 1, 2021 — just a little over three months after I took office. U.S. forces had already drawn down during the Trump administration from roughly 15,500 American forces to 2,500 troops in the country, and the Taliban was at its strongest militarily since 2001.”
He continued by noting that he had to either two choices — “follow through with the agreement” or risk escalating the conflict by “fighting the Taliban in the middle of the spring fighting season.”
“There would have been no cease-fire after May 1. There was no agreement protecting our forces after May 1. There was no status quo of stability without American casualties after May 1. There was only the cold reality of either following through on the agreement to withdraw our forces or escalating the conflict and sending thousands more American troops back into combat in Afghanistan, lurching into the third decade of conflict,” Biden added.
The president also placed the blame on the Afghan elected leaders and excoriated the Afghan military for not putting up more of a fight against the Taliban, noting that his decision was now the right one in essence due to the waste of America’s time and money spent to build up its security forces.
“So what’s happened? Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight,” the president said. “If anything, the developments of the past week reinforce that ending US military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision.”
“We gave them every tool they could need,” Biden added. “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.”
Biden also pointed to the “frank conversations” he had with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Chairman of the Afghan delegation, Abdullah Abdullah, at the White House in June, but those talks he said ultimately failed due to the elected officials “flatly refused” to take any of his suggestions.
“We talked about how Afghanistan should prepare to fight their civil wars after the U.S. military departed, to clean up the corruption in government so the government could function for the Afghan people. We talked extensively about the need for Afghan leaders to unite politically,” Biden said. “They failed to do any of that. I also urged them to engage in diplomacy, to seek a political settlement with the Taliban. This advice was flatly refused. Mr. Ghani insisted the Afghan forces would fight, but obviously, he was wrong.”
Videos and images from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul earlier on Monday showed chaos ensuing at the tarmac as thousands of Afghan civilians swarmed around the planes to board and escape the Taliban’s rule. At least seven people have been killed during the chaotic evacuation effort at the airport, including some desperate Afghans civilians plunging to their deaths after clinging on to a U.S. military jet that took off.
Video: People run on tarmac of Kabul international airport as a US military aircraft attempts to take off. pic.twitter.com/9qA36HS0WQ
— TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) August 16, 2021
The scenes of the hasty evacuation of diplomatic personnel from the U.S. embassy in Kabul echoed the comparison to the fall of Saigon at the final days of the Vietnam War in 1975. Photos symbolizing America’s failings in Vietnam showed scenes of last-minute evacuations at the U.S embassy in Saigon as North Vietnamese forces quickly overran the South Vietnamese capital.
Critics are now calling the images of helicopters evacuating the U.S. embassy in Kabul as Biden’s “Saigon moment,” despite the president dismissing back in early July that the world would not see scenes in Afghanistan similar to the situation that occurred in Vietnam, arguing “there’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said U.S. troops killed two armed individuals at the Kabul airport who were posing “hostile threats,” causing flights to be suspended for nearly half of the day on Monday. 1,000 more U.S. troops are scheduled to be deployed to secure the airport, Kirby announced Monday, who will back up the 2,500 troops already stationed, with the number expanding up to 6,000 troops by the end of the week.