President Joe Biden addressed the nation following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the subsequent collapse of the American-backed government in Kabul as the Taliban took over. The president defended his decision to withdraw but admitted that the government’s fall came “more quickly than we had anticipated.”
“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said. “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.”
While the U.S. military withdrew, Taliban forces have taken control of numerous cities throughout the country in the last couple of weeks, capturing 26 of 34 provincial capitals before taking over Kabul on Sunday. The capital city’s fall led President Ashraf Ghani to flee the nation, and the U.S. government evacuated its embassy there as staff rushed to destroy documents containing sensitive information, leading to comparisons to America’s hasty withdrawal from Saigon during the Vietnam War. Chaos also broke out at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport as Afghans desperate to escape fought to board planes heading out of the country, with some desperately trying to cling to the fuselage of an American military plane as it took off.
Speaking from the White House, Biden defended his decision, saying the U.S. accomplished its goals of fighting terrorism in the region by “severely degrading” al Qaeda’s presence.
“Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to be nation-building,” Biden said. “It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralized democracy.”
Biden also laid blame on Afghan political leaders, whom he accused of surrendering too quickly. “Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country,” he said, adding, “If anything, the developments of the past week reinforce that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision.”
Biden said that he did not want to pass the issue of troops in Afghanistan onto another president, prolonging the more than 20-year-long war.
“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” Biden said, somehow blaming the Afghan people for their plight. “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We could not provide them with the will to fight for that future.”
The president also said the government would help thousands of Afghans who assisted U.S. forces in the conflict leave the country, as many fear for their lives with the Taliban in control. Biden has drawn criticism for withdrawing troops before many Afghans could leave.
To assist with evacuations, the U.S. is sending in around 6,000 troops back in to help some 22,000 Afghans who hold special immigrant visas, along with their families. But Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane reported that even with the U.S. again controlling Afghan airspace and hoping to evacuate as many as 5,000 people a day, there is still the matter of how evacuees will get to the airport.
“There’s another big concern,” Culhane said. “The embassy is telling the people who worked with the U.S. that are now being hunted by the Taliban to shelter in place… But if they can’t get through the Taliban checkpoints, it’s unlikely they’re going to be able to get to the airport.”