In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended President Biden’s decision to pull troops out of Afghanistan as the US is in the process of evacuating from Kabul.
When Biden came into office in January, there were officially 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan. Hawks that were against the withdrawal argued that Biden could keep the small presence since no US troops were dying in combat. Blinken pointed that this was not an option because the only reason US troops weren’t being attacked was due to the US-Taliban peace deal, which was signed in February 2020 and called for all foreign forces to leave by May 1st.
“The idea that the status quo could have been maintained by keeping our forces there I think is simply wrong. The fact of the matter is, had the President decided to keep forces in Afghanistan beyond May 1st, attacks would have resumed on our forces. The Taliban had not been attacking our forces or NATO during the period from which the agreement was reached to May 1st,” Blinken said.
Blinken said the current Taliban offensive was inevitable. “The offensive you’re seeing across the country now to take these provincial capitals would have commenced, and we would have been back at war with the Taliban, and I’d probably be on this program today explaining why we were sending tens of thousands of American forces back into Afghanistan and back to war, something the American people simply don’t support,” he said.
Biden technically broke the US-Taliban deal by pushing back the May 1st withdrawal deadline to August 31st. The Taliban appeared to accept the new withdrawal date and has refrained from attacking foreign troops, although breaking the agreement had its consequences. The Taliban started its major offensive once May 1st passed. The collapse of the Afghan government was inevitable, but if Biden stuck to the original withdrawal deadline, it might not have happened so quickly.
While Blinken recognized the reality of what it would have meant for the US to stay, he rejected the comparison to the Vietnam War and the evacuation of the Saigon embassy. “This is not Saigon. We went to Afghanistan 20 years ago with one mission, and that mission was to deal with the folks who attacked us on 9/11. And we have succeeded in that mission,” he said, ignoring the failed regime change and nation-building project.
The US deployed 6,000 troops to Kabul to help evacuate the US embassy and get diplomatic personnel and Afghan citizens out of the country. The State Department confirmed Sunday that the embassy has been fully evacuated and that its staff is at the Kabul airport, which has been taken over by the US military.