Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images
President Biden on Monday defended his decision to withdraw the US military from Afghanistan despite the rapid Taliban takeover of the country and chaotic scenes unfolding in the capital Kabul as people crowd into the airport in an attempt to escape.
“I am the President of the United States of America and the money stops with me,” he said. “I am deeply sorry for the facts we are facing now, but I do not regret my decision.”
Speaking of the Taliban’s abrupt ouster of the US-backed government, Biden acknowledged: “The truth is that this was happening faster than we expected,” but added that he would not pass on the war to a fifth US president or say that “a little more time” in Afghanistan “will make all the difference.”
Last month, Biden had said it was “very unlikely” that the Taliban would conquer the country when US forces left.
Although Biden said he took responsibility for how the withdrawal unfolded, in the White House he largely blamed the Afghan military for not standing and fighting the Taliban as well as Afghan political leaders for fleeing.
A senior administration official told NPR on Monday that most US embassy staff had been evacuated from Kabul with a small footprint on the ground at the city’s airport. The official said the administration expects it will take “a few more days” to continue moving these people out.
The White House considers the situation unstable and serious, the official said, but not a worst-case scenario, as there has been no widespread violence around Kabul so far.
The official also defended the administration’s preparations for the evacuation. “This is a scenario that we were unfortunately ready for,” the official said – although US plans have changed several times in recent days as the evacuations have been launched, including the deployment of thousands of US troops to help the process.
Statements under fierce criticism
Criticism of how the U.S. exit was orchestrated has been twofold.
Some hawkish Republicans have blasted Biden for failing to prevent the Taliban from seizing power and warned of the potential risk of renewed growth of terrorist cells.
Others, such as former President Donald Trump, who signed a 2020 deal with the Taliban and set the timeline for the U.S. exit, focused on the withdrawal itself.
“It’s not that we left Afghanistan. It’s the grossly incompetent way we left!” Trump said in a statement at the end of Biden’s remarks.
“This is President Biden’s Saigon moment,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., Said Sunday on CBS ‘ Meet the nation, referring to the chaotic departure from Vietnam in 1975. “And that was unfortunately very predictable. It seems that many in President Biden’s intelligence service made such devastating mistakes.”
Some Democrats have made similar criticisms and have largely focused on the potential humanitarian crisis, especially for women and girls left behind after the withdrawal. Other Democrats have supported the decision, but privately wringing their hand over the potential political problem that the chaotic exit creates for the party in power.
“There was never a good time to retire”
The rapid collapse of the Afghan government and the lack of a fight by the Afghan military, Biden said, reinforced his decision to leave – and that a military solution to a secure and stable Afghanistan did not exist.
“There was never a good time to withdraw American forces,” Biden added. “That’s why we’re still there.”
The president pointed out that entering Afghanistan was about getting those “who attacked us” on 9/11 to ensure that al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups could not use Afghanistan as a place from which to attack the United States. again.
He noted that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been assassinated ten years ago and that the mission was “never to be nation-building” or “to create a united, centralized democracy.”
The goal, he said, was “to prevent a terrorist attack on American homeland,” and the mission must be “narrowly focused on counter-terrorism.”
That’s something Biden has been saying for more than a decade since he was former President Barack Obama’s vice president.
Biden added that the United States needs to “meet threats from today,” “not yesterday’s.”
The president, who had been following the crisis abroad from Camp David, returned to the White House on Monday afternoon to give the speech, as thousands of US forces have been sent back to secure Kabul airport to complete the evacuation of Americans and others. who helped. United States during the war.
Biden took no questions from reporters after his remarks and then returned to Camp David.
He acknowledged that the scenes on the ground were “mother-cutting” for U.S. veterans and aid workers who have spent years serving and working in Afghanistan.
“For those who have lost loved ones in Afghanistan and for Americans who have fought and served in the country, this is deeply, deeply personal,” he said.