In the midst of the chaos at the Kabul airport, President Biden delivered a speech defending his decision to end the almost 20-year war in Afghanistan, saying he stands “squarely” behind his decision.
“I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces,” he said.
Biden explained how he inherited the US-Taliban peace deal signed in February 2020. Under the agreement, the Taliban agreed not to attack foreign troops in exchange for all foreign forces to leave the country by May 1st. Since the deal was signed, no US troops have died in combat in Afghanistan.
“The choice I had to make … was either to follow through on that agreement or be prepared to go back to fighting the Taliban in the middle of the spring fighting season. There would have been no ceasefire after May 1. There was no agreement protecting our forces after May 1,” he said.
Biden technically broke the deal by pushing back the May 1st withdrawal deadline to September 11th, which he then changed to August 31st. The Taliban appeared to accept the new date and has not attacked any foreign troops. But the Taliban’s offensive against the Afghan government intensified after May 1st, leading to the fall of Kabul before Biden could complete his withdrawal.
Biden admitted that the Taliban’s rapid gains and the fall of Kabul happened quicker than the US expected and placed much of the blame on the US-backed government and the now-former president of the country, Ashraf Ghani.
“So what’s happened? Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight. If anything, the developments of the past week reinforce that ending US military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision,” he said.
Biden said he warned Ghani that the Afghan military would have to fight after US troops left. He also urged the Afghan leader to seek a political solution with the Taliban, advice Biden said was refused. “Mr. Ghani insisted that the Afghan forces would fight. But obviously, he was wrong,” Biden said.
The Biden administration initially had plans to leave about 650 troops in Afghanistan that would be based out of the embassy in Kabul. But now, the embassy is evacuated, and about 6,000 US troops are being deployed to the Kabul airport to airlift civilian personnel and Afghan allies out of the country. Biden said once the evacuation is complete, the US military will withdraw.
“Our current military mission will be short in time, limited in scope, and focused on its objectives. Get our people and our allies to safety as quickly as possible. And once we’ve completed this mission, we will conclude our military withdrawal. We will end America’s longest war after 20 long years of bloodshed,” he said.
While Biden seems determined to end the war in Afghanistan, he made it clear the Pentagon has its sights on other countries. He said the so-called “terrorist threat” has expanded beyond Afghanistan and cited al-Shabaab in Somalia, al-Nusra in Syria, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Biden recently escalated the air war against al-Shabaab, bombing Somalia three times after a long pause in airstrikes. The president also cited China and Russia, who he called “our true strategic competitors,” as a reason to leave Afghanistan.