WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden defended his decision to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan on Monday afternoon, his first remarks since the Taliban ousted the Afghan national government on Sunday.
“I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces,” Biden said in a memorable speech delivered from the East Room of the White House.
“I am president of the United States of America. The buck stops with me,” he added.
The president’s remarks came amid mounting criticism of his administration’s handling of the situation, as chaos engulfed parts of Kabul and civilian government collapsed.
“The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we anticipated,” Biden said of the lighting offensive by the Taliban, which captured the entire country in less than two weeks.
Still, Biden said his resolve had not wavered, and the past week has effectively proven that 20 years of war have not produced an Afghan army that can defend the government, or a government willing to remain in the country as the Taliban approached.
“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” Biden said. “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We could not provide them with the will to fight for that future.”
“I know my decision will be criticized, but I would rather take all that criticism than pass this decision on to” a future president, Biden said.
Despite being vastly outnumbered by the Afghan military, which has long been assisted by U.S. and NATO coalition forces, the Taliban carried out a succession of shocking battlefield gains in recent weeks.
As the Taliban moved closer to 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
Biden ordered the deployment of approximately 5,000 U.S. troops to Kabul to evacuate U.S. Embassy staff throughout the weekend. The State Department confirmed Sunday evening that all U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy had been safely transported to Kabul’s international airport.
“All Embassy personnel are located on the premises of Hamid Karzai International Airport whose perimeter is secured by the U.S. military,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
U.S. Embassy personnel on the ground were instructed to destroy sensitive information material ahead of their departure.
Thousands of Afghans swarmed the tarmac at the airport, desperate to escape a country now completely overrun by the Taliban.
Afghan people sit as they wait to leave the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to flee the group’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule.
Wakil Kohsar | AFP | Getty Images
Two U.S. defense officials confirmed to NBC News that the Taliban seized Bagram Air Base on Sunday, a development that comes less than two months after the U.S. military handed over the once-stalwart airbase to the Afghan National Security and Defense Force.
The Taliban began emptying out Parwan prison there, which has an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 prisoners, including hardened Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters, according to the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
In 2012, at its peak, Bagram saw more than 100,000 U.S. troops pass through. It was the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan.
In April, Biden ordered the Pentagon to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, a decision he said was made in lockstep with NATO coalition forces.
Last week, the president told reporters at the White House that he did not regret his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan, effectively ending America’s longest war.
“Look, we spent over a trillion dollars over 20 years, we trained and equipped with modern equipment over 300,000 Afghan forces,” Biden said Tuesday. “Afghan leaders have to come together,” he added.
Biden, in a statement Saturday amid the deteriorating security situation but before the Afghan government’s collapse, remained steadfast in his position.
“One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country,” the president said. “And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me.”