© Reuters. US President Joe Biden waves as he arrives at Fort McNair on his way back to the White House to make a statement on Afghanistan, in Washington, US, Aug. 16, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis
By Steve Holland and Nandita Bose
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden said on Monday he was “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, despite searing images of chaos in Kabul that exposed the limits of US power and puts him in the worst crisis of the world. collapsed his presidency.
Biden broke his silence on the US withdrawal after scenes of bedlam-dominated television news channels for days blamed the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan on Afghan political leaders fleeing the country and the reluctance of the US-trained Afghan military to attack the militant group. to fight.
He warned Taliban leaders that they would face “devastating violence” if they interfered with the US withdrawal. Biden was forced to send US troop reinforcements to Kabul to ensure a safe withdrawal of US diplomatic personnel and civilians, as well as Afghan civilians working with the United States and facing reprisals.
The panicked evacuation, coming weeks after Biden predicted that the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan was not inevitable, has tarnished America’s image on the global stage, just as Biden has tried to emphasize to world leaders that “America is back” after the tumultuous four year of former President Donald Trump.
The withdrawal has also raised fears that militant groups such as Al Qaeda could recover under the Taliban rule.
Biden rejected harsh criticism of his Afghan policies from Republican and Democratic lawmakers, some former generals and human rights groups, and firmly defended his withdrawal from a 20-year war that has lasted four presidencies.
“I fully support my decision,” Biden said in a televised speech at the White House. “After 20 years, I learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US troops. That’s why we’re still here.”
Biden said he found some of the scenes of chaos in Kabul “heartbreaking” but that he did not start moving evacuees sooner because Afghan President Ashraf Ghani did not want a mass exodus.
POLITICAL RISKS UNCLEAR
He acknowledged that the Taliban’s speed in retaking the country was unexpected. The rapid advance stunned US officials who predicted that the Afghan military would repel the militants or hold them back for months.
“The truth is, this happened faster than we expected. So what happened? Afghan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military gave up, sometimes without trying to fight,” Biden said.
He also criticized his Republican predecessor, Trump, whose administration negotiated a deal with the Taliban that Biden said left the group “in the strongest military position since 2001.”
Critics of Biden have focused on how the US withdrawal is being carried out, as video showed Afghans flooding the runways at Kabul airport and desperately trying to grab the fuselage of a US plane skimming over the tarmac. rolls.
“The President’s failure to acknowledge his disastrous withdrawal is of no comfort to Americans or our Afghan partners whose lives are at stake,” Republican Senator Mitt Romney said in a tweet.
Biden criticized the two top Afghan leaders, Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, head of the country’s Supreme Council for National Reconciliation, saying they had “outright rejected” his advice to seek a political settlement with the Taliban. .
“How many more generations of America’s daughters and sons will you send me to fight Afghans – the civil war of Afghanistan, if Afghan troops don’t? How many more lives – American lives – is it worth? How many endless rows of headstones at Arlington National Cemetery?” asked Biden.
Whether Biden will face a long-term political risk to Afghanistan is unclear. Foreign policy generally does not play a major role in US elections. Many Americans have expressed support for Trump and Biden’s decision to leave Afghanistan, America’s longest war. https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/americas-longest-war-20-years-missteps-afghanistan-2021-08-16
But Republican Representative Mike McCaul suggested his party could try to frame Afghan chaos as a national security issue that makes the United States more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
“I think it will greatly affect national security this presidency,” he said.
The United States and allies invaded Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, overthrowing the Taliban, which had received al Qaeda militants responsible for the attack.
Biden also said his decision was the result of a commitment he made to US troops that he would not ask them to continue risking their lives for a war that should have ended long ago.
“Our leaders did that in Vietnam when I came here as a young man. I won’t do it in Afghanistan,” he said. “I know my decision will be criticized, but I’d rather take all that criticism than pass this decision on to another president.”