WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden defended his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan Monday afternoon, his first remarks since the Taliban overthrew the Afghan government on Sunday.
“I fully support my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces, “said Biden in a memorable speech from the East Room of the White House.
“I’m President of the United States of America. The money stops with me,” he added.
The president’s remarks came amid increasing criticism of his government’s handling of the situation as chaos gripped parts of Kabul and the collapse of civilian government.
“The truth is, this has developed faster than we expected,” Biden said of the Taliban’s lighting offensive that took over the entire country in less than two weeks.
Still, Biden said his resolve had not wavered, and last week had effectively proven that 20 years of war have not produced an Afghan army the government can defend or a government willing to stay in the country during the Taliban approached.
“American troops cannot and should not fight in a war and die in a war that the Afghan armed forces are unwilling to wage for themselves,” Biden said. “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We couldn’t give them the will to fight for that future,” he added.
“I know my decision will be criticized, but I would rather accept all of this criticism than pass this decision on to a future president,” said Biden.
The president also spoke directly to American veterans and diplomats who believe the withdrawal has rendered their sacrifices pointless.
“I want to acknowledge how painful this is for so many of us. The scenes we see in Afghanistan are heartbreaking, especially for our veterans, our diplomats, humanitarian workers and everyone who has been there.” work to support the Afghan people, “he said.
At one point, Biden invoked the military service of his own son – Beau Biden, who was stationed in Iraq for a year and later died of cancer in 2015.
“For those who lost loved ones in Afghanistan and for Americans who fought and served in the country, serve our country in Afghanistan. This is deeply personal. It is to me too,” he said.
Though vastly outnumbered the Afghan military, long backed by US and NATO coalition forces, they have made a number of shocking gains on the battlefield in recent weeks.
As the Taliban approached the capital over the weekend, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and western nations rushed to evacuate embassies amid a deteriorating security situation.
Taliban fighters sit over a vehicle on a street in Laghman province on August 15, 2021.
AFP | Getty Images
Afghan people are waiting to leave Kabul Airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021 after a surprisingly quick end to the 20-year war in Afghanistan as thousands of people besieged the city’s airport to face the dreaded hard-line Islamist rule to flee the group.
Deputy Kohsar | AFP | Getty Images
Elsewhere in Washington, US officials began drawing the outline of America’s future engagement with the new Taliban administration on Monday.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ned Price said the decision on whether the Taliban leadership would be officially recognized as the legitimate government of Afghanistan would be informed by events in the coming weeks and months.
“It will depend on the actions of the Taliban,” Price said. “We are watching closely … the world is watching closely.”
“A future Afghan government that upholds the fundamental rights of its people, does not harbor terrorists and protects the fundamental rights of its people, including the fundamental rights of half of its population, its women and girls, that is a government.” we can work with, “he said.
A Department of Defense spokesman said U.S. Marine Corps general Kenneth McKenzie met with Taliban leaders in Doha, Qatar.
“The message was sent very clearly to the Taliban that these operations and our people would not be attacked or there would be a response,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. “While you and I speak, there has been no attack on our operation or our people at the airport,” said Kirby
The Taliban occupied the Bagram Air Force Base on Sunday, a development that came less than two months after the US military handed over the once robust air base to the Afghan National Security and Defense Force.
The Taliban began emptying the Parwan Prison there, which is estimated to house an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 prisoners, including die-hard Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters, officials said, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In 2012, at its peak, Bagram looked through more than 100,000 U.S. soldiers. It was the largest US military facility in Afghanistan.