Biden defends decision to withdraw US troops

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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, “Biden said in 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 this future.”

“I know my decision will be criticized, but I would rather take that criticism than pass this decision on to a future president,” said Biden.

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

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan admitted in an interview with NBC Monday morning that the speed of the Taliban’s takeover surprised the government, but said U.S. forces in the region were prepositioned to deal in the event of a rapid collapse.

“It is certainly the case that the rate at which cities were falling has been much faster than anyone expected, including Afghans, including many analysts who have been studying the problem,” Sullivan said.

Biden ordered about 5,000 US soldiers to be sent to Kabul to evacuate US embassy staff throughout the weekend. The State Department confirmed on Sunday evening that all US diplomats from the embassy were safely transported to Kabul International Airport.

“All embassy staff are on the premises of Hamid Karzai International Airport, the area around which is secured by the US military,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

The staff of the US embassy on site have been instructed to destroy sensitive information material prior to their departure.

Thousands of Afghans swarmed on the airport tarmac, desperate to flee a country that has now been completely overrun by the Taliban.

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

Two U.S. defense officials confirmed to NBC News that the Taliban seized the Bagram Air Force Base on Sunday, a development that came less than two months after the U.S. military handed over the once unshakable 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.

In April, Biden ordered the Pentagon to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan by September 11, a decision he believed was made in lockstep with NATO coalition forces.

Last week, the president told reporters at the White House that he had no regrets about his decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, effectively ending America’s longest war.

“Look, we’ve spent over a trillion dollars over 20 years, we’ve trained over 300,000 Afghan forces and equipped them with modern equipment,” Biden said on Tuesday. “Afghan leaders need to come together,” he added.

Biden stood firm in his position in a statement on Saturday amid the deteriorating security situation but before the Afghan government collapsed.

“One or five more years of US military presence would have made no difference if the Afghan military cannot or does not want to hold its own country,” said the president. “And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil war was not acceptable to me.”