President Joe Biden broke his silence on the American withdrawal from Afghanistan on Monday, reiterating his decision while slamming the country’s old Western-backed government for failing to fight the Taliban.
“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 in a televised address from the White House.
“The buck stops with me,” Biden declared as pictures of chaos and despair poured in from Kabul, where American troops were attempting to evacuate the airport as Taliban militants swarmed the city.
He dismissed accusations that the evacuation was a disaster, saying the objective is to end a conflict that has grown well beyond its original modest goals of punishing the Taliban for their ties to Al-Qaeda after 9/11.
“Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation-building,” he said, vowing that despite the departure of US troops anti-terrorism operations would continue.
In the next days, “thousands” of US citizens and Afghans who cooperated with American troops would be evacuated, according to Biden. If the Taliban strikes in the meanwhile, Biden has promised a “devastating” military reaction.
Biden departed the White House shortly after the address to head to his weekend getaway at Camp David, underscoring his confidence. He travelled to Washington hours before to deliver the speech after being pressured to do so.
Blaming the Afghans
While Biden claimed responsibility for the mission’s failure, he slammed previous Afghan government and military leaders who were installed, organized, and backed by the US during the past two decades.
Instead of standing up to the advancing Taliban — a highly experienced guerrilla force but more lightly armed than the US-supplied Afghan army — the government fled.
“We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We could not provide them the will to fight for that future,” Biden said.
Partly acknowledging the surprising suddenness of the final Taliban assault, Biden said “this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.”
Rather than dwell on the horrific images of Afghans swarming the airport or react to accusations that the White House was unprepared, Biden gave out his message that the war must be ended.
“Our true strategic competitors, China and Russia, would love nothing more than the United States to continue to funnel billions of dollars in resources and attention into stabilizing Afghanistan indefinitely,” he said.
Biden said he was “left again to ask of those who argue that we should stay: how many more generations of America’s daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghans — Afghanistan’s civil war — when Afghan troops will not?”