Biden defends US withdrawal from Afghanistan despite chaos in Kabul
Washington, Aug 16 (EFE).- President Joe Biden on Monday afternoon in a televised address fully defended his decision to withdraw US military forces from Afghanistan despite the chaos that has erupted in Kabul, although he acknowledged that the Taliban takeover of the Afghan capital came “more quickly than we anticipated.”
“I stand squarely behind my decision” to withdraw US troops from the Central Asian nation, thus ending the longest US war, Biden said from the White House after US citizens and the world have been seeing dramatic scenes from the Kabul airport in recent hours where desperate Afghans are trying to leave the country as the capital fell to the Taliban after the precipitous collapse of any and all organized military resistance to their takeover of the country.
“After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw” from Afghanistan, Biden said, adding that he would not pass on the conflict to yet another president, given that two Republicans and two Democrats have now had to deal with the war there since 2001.
The president said that “American troops cannot and should not be fighting the war, and dying in a war, that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” but he also warned that the US will defend its personnel with “devastating force” if the Taliban attack Americans or sabotage the evacuation from Afghanistan.
In recent days the US has dispatched 6,000 troops to Afghanistan and is now sending another 1,000 to that country to help with the evacuation of US civilians and allies.
Biden, who has extensive foreign policy experience, served as vice president for eight years under former President Barack Obama from 2009-2017, a time during which US policy vis-a-vis Afghanistan underwent sweeping changes.
He said in his speech that US policy in Afghanistan was never to nation-build or to create a unified and centralized democracy in the landlocked Central Asian nation but rather to prevent its being used as a base from which to launch terrorist attacks against US soil.
The US president also said that he was following through on the withdrawal plan prepared during the administration of former President Donald Trump, a plan that had initially called for US troops to withdraw from Afghanistan by May 1.
After taking office in January, Biden had that he would adhere to the general plan to remove US troops and would complete the withdrawal before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which were the events that led then-President George W. Bush to invade Afghanistan in the first place to oust the Taliban from power there.
Last month, Biden said that a Taliban takeover was not necessarily a foregone conclusion, adding that the US had equipped and trained the Afghan military to keep the Taliban insurgents under control and saying that “I trust the capacity of the Afghan military.”
Biden also said that Afghan leaders had assured him that their armed forces would fight the Taliban to prevent such a takeover, but – with many Afghan troops lacking ammunition, back pay and even food, in some cases – virtually any resistance they might have posed collapsed in the face of the rapid Taliban advances over the past few weeks to fill the anticipated US military vacuum.
Biden said in his prepared speech that he was “deeply saddened” by the ongoing chaotic withdrawal of US and foreign personnel and military forces, but he defended the decision to remove US troops and end the 20-year war.
“It’s been hard and messy and, yes, far from perfect,” he said, explaining and justifying at length his decision to follow through on the Trump plan to remove US forces but stating that “I know my decision will be criticized.”
The accelerated evacuation of US embassy and other personnel has drawn comparisons – both from Republicans, who were quick to pounce on the administration for the chaos, but also from Democrats – to the images of Americans being airlifted by helicopter from the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon in 1975.
Although most politicians of both parties said they agreed with Biden’s decision to follow through on Trump’s decision to remove US troops from Afghanistan, they lambasted his failure to accelerate measures to help thousands of Afghans who had worked with US forces over the past 20 years get out of the country before the Taliban took over.
The administration also came in for harsh public criticism from many quarters over the unseemly and rushed effort to evacuate Americans.
Amid the chaos, at least two armed people have been shot and killed by US forces so far at the Kabul airport, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday.
In remarks to reporters, Kirby said that US troops had responded to hostile threats in two separate incidents at the airport, but he did not specify whether the people who were killed were linked to the Taliban.