WASHINGTON — President Biden on Monday offered a defiant defense of his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, blaming the rapid collapse of the Afghan government and chaotic scenes. at Kabul . airport on the refusal of the country’s military to hold out and fight against the advance of the Taliban.
Speaking to the American people from the East Room after briefly returning to the White House from Camp David, Mr. Biden said he did not regret his decision to end the longest war in US history. United States. But he lamented that two decades of support failed to turn the Afghan military into a force capable of securing its own country.
“We gave them all the tools they needed. We paid their salary. For the maintenance of their aircraft,” said Mr Biden. “We have given them every opportunity to determine their own future. What we couldn’t offer was the will to fight for that future.”
Biden acknowledged that the Taliban’s victory had come much faster than the United States had anticipated and that the withdrawal was “hard and messy.” However, as the fourth president to preside over the war in Afghanistan, he said “the buck stops with me.”
“I fully support my decision,” he said, adding that he “wouldn’t shy away from my share of the responsibility for where we are now.”
He addressed a question to critics of the withdrawal, asking, “How many generations of American daughters and sons do you want me to send to fight Afghans — Afghanistan’s civil war, if Afghan troops don’t?”
Speaking after dramatic footage showed a frenetic battle to evacuate the US embassy in Kabul as Taliban fighters advanced, Mr Biden made stark comparisons to America’s withdrawal from Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. Footage of people clinging to a hulking US military vehicle even as it left the ground quickly spread all over the world.
But in his speech, Mr. Biden spent far more time defending his decision to leave Afghanistan than the chaotic way it was being carried out.
The Taliban solidified their control of Afghanistan on Monday, with scenes of handoffs to insurgent fighters playing out across the country and reports that the Taliban were looking for people they considered to be collaborators with the Americans and the fallen government.
In Washington, the Pentagon said troops had secured the airport in Kabul, where flights were resuming after an earlier hiatus. Officials said 6,000 U.S. troops would conduct security at the airport later this week and aid the evacuation. Foreign ministry officials said Monday that the government had evacuated 3,600 people since mid-July, including about 2,000 Afghans who were eligible for special immigrant visas.
Mr Biden dismissed criticism from allies and opponents, emphasized that his administration had planned the possibility of a swift Taliban takeover and expressed pride that diplomats and other Americans had been evacuated to relative safety at the airport.
“Afghan political leaders gave up and fled the country,” he said, accusing the military of laying down arms after two decades of American training and hundreds of billions of dollars in equipment and resources. “In any case, developments over the past week have confirmed that ending US military involvement in Afghanistan was now the right decision.”
Mr Biden told President Ashraf Ghani, who: flee the country over the weekend as the Taliban advanced, it failed to keep its promise that the Afghan military would be ready to defend the country after the last American troops had left.
“Mr. Ghani insisted that Afghan forces fight, but he was clearly wrong,” Biden said.
The political ramifications of the Afghan government’s collapse swept the White House, even as criticism poured in from Republican and Democratic lawmakers, Afghan activists, foreign policy experts and officials from previous administrations.
On Capitol Hill, Mr. Biden’s speech caused some of the consequences. Democrats who had criticized the president this weekend praised him for pointing out the cost of America’s long-term involvement in the war.
“President Biden understands history when it comes to Afghanistan,” said Illinois Senator Richard J. Durbin, a member of the Democratic leadership. “He made the difficult decision not to hand over this longest US war to a fifth president, and had he walked away from the withdrawal agreement originally negotiated by President Trump, Taliban attacks on US troops would have started again and again. require a wave of the US. troops.”
But Republicans put the blame entirely on Mr Biden.
Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the highest-ranking Republican in the Senate, called it a “monumental collapse.” senator Mitt RomneyUtah Republican, said Mr. Biden did not acknowledge the “disastrous pullout.”
With thousands of Afghans desperately trying to escape the Taliban takeover, other countries are bracing for a flood of refugees. According to the Greek Ministry of Migration, five Mediterranean countries at the forefront of mass migration to Europe – Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain – called for talks at EU level on Wednesday.
There are also concerns about refugees flowing to Iran, Pakistan and Turkey.
Canada said last week it would resettle more than 20,000 Afghans from groups it considers likely targets of the Taliban, including prominent women, human rights activists and LGBTQ people.
Publishers of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post called on Mr. Biden to help evacuate Afghan journalists who had contributed to newspaper coverage of the region. In a joint letter on Monday, the publishers asked Mr Biden to “relocate urgently” to protect the safety of journalists and their families “stuck in Kabul, their lives in danger”.
Biden vowed again to rescue thousands of Afghans who had helped Americans during the two-decade conflict, but the fate of many who remained in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan was uncertain Monday. And thousands of Afghans with dual US citizenship went missing after reports of retaliation attacks by the Taliban as they took control.
The president acknowledged criticism that the government did not act quickly enough to evacuate Afghans acting as American translators and other aides. But he said the Afghan government had discouraged a mass evacuation and said it would create a “crisis of confidence” in the country’s ability to fight the Taliban.
Over the weekend, Mr. Biden, who was scheduled to be on vacation all week, stayed with his family at Camp David, in the Maryland mountains, rather than rushing back to the White House as the situation in Afghanistan worsened. .
White House officials described several hours of meetings over the weekend and said the president was briefed numerous times by top intelligence, diplomatic and military aides as the administration rushed to keep up with a reality in Afghanistan that was changing by the hour.
On Thursday evening, officials urged reporters not to call activities in Kabul an “evacuation.” The next day, that warning was gone as the president ordered new military deployments to protect embassy employees as they fled.
White House officials said there were “active discussions” all weekend about when Biden should discuss the situation publicly and what he would say. Officials said they did not want the president to speak until the situation on the ground in Kabul was stable.
But by Monday, officials had agreed on a message in which the president and his top officials would acknowledge the Taliban takeover was faster than they expected, but say the situation was under control and consistent with Mr Biden’s goal. to finally remove the Taliban. United States of a never-ending war.
Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, said Monday on NBC’s “Today” program that the government was pursuing what he called a “successful withdrawal of our embassy,” although he acknowledged that “the rate at which cities fell was much bigger than anyone expected, including the Afghans.”
In July, in response to questions from reporters, Biden said he believed the fall of the Afghan government was not inevitable, as the country’s military was 300,000 strong and as well equipped as any other in the world.
On Sunday, the national Republican Party posted a link to Mr Biden’s response on Twitter, adding, “This was just 38 days ago.”
After Mr Biden spoke, White House officials described in more detail the tensions between Mr Biden and Mr Ghani as the now-deposed Afghan leader made his final visit to Washington on June 25.
Mr. Ghani, they said, had urged Mr. Biden to delay the move of many of the country’s former translators and to keep other actions “calm” for fear of undermining his government. Officials said they decided to proceed anyway, although only 2,000 of the applicants, less than 10 percent of the estimated total, had left the country before the Taliban entered Kabul.
Mr Ghani also called for US close-air support for Afghan security forces and for the United States to leave more than 100 technicians at Kabul airport to help keep Afghan military craft flying – a number of US military officials said that they would not keep enough aircraft operational. On Aug. 6, officials said, the Pentagon held an exercise to simulate a large-scale evacuation of civilians, the very operation now underway.
Jonathan Weisman reporting contributed.