President Joe Biden on Tuesday defended his decision to remove the United States from Afghanistan, claimed the evacuation from Kabul was an ‘extraordinary success,’ pushed the blame on Donald Trump and vowed to bring home every American who wants out.
In lengthy remarks, Biden argued the world was changing. He cited cyber threats from Russia and China as among the modern concerns America must face.
Biden spoke passionately as he defended his actions, at times waving his arms and gripping the podium, after he face criticism from some Democrats, many Republicans and fellow world leaders about his handling of the U.S. drawdown.
‘Let me be clear. Leaving August 31 is not due to an arbitrary deadline. It was designed to save American lives,’ Biden said in his first public remarks on the withdraw.
And he touted to the ‘extraordinary success of this mission,’ referencing the evacuation of more than 120,000 people from Kabul.
August 31 was the deadline Biden set earlier this year and stuck to despite pleas from some Democratic lawmakers who were veterans and his fellow world leaders, who used a G7 virtual meeting to plead with him to keep boots on the ground longer.
But Biden argued his predecessor in the Oval Office, Donald Trump, tied his hands on the matter. He noted Trump signed a deal with the Taliban to leave by May 1 and that shackled his options.
‘My predecessor, the former president, signed an agreement with the Taliban to remove U.S. troops by May 1, just months after I was inaugurated,’ he said.
He said that agreement allowed the release of 5,000 prisoners last year. ‘including some of the Taliban’s top war commanders among those that just took control of Afghanistan.’
‘By the time I came to office, the Taliban was in its strongest military position since 2001,’ Biden said.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday defended his decision to remove the U.S. from Afghanistan
He painted the decision to leave as a ‘simple’ one: ‘Either follow-through on the commitment made by the last administration and leave Afghanistan or say we weren’t leaving and commit another tens of thousands more troops going back to war. That was the choice, the real choice.’
‘I was not going to extend the war,’ Biden said, his voice rising as he spoke.
He defended specific criticism he faced, including questions about the remaining Americans – estimated between 100 to 200 – still in Afghanistan.
He vowed to bring them home.
‘For those remaining Americans, there is no deadline. We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out,’ he said. Biden told ABC News earlier this month he wouldn’t remove U.S. troops until all Americans were home.
He also defended the evacuation after last week’s suicide bombing killed 13 U.S. service members and hundreds of Afghan allies.
‘We completed one of the biggest airlifts in history with more than 120,000 people evacuated to safety.’
He also blamed the Afghan leaders for not doing their part.
He conceded that he under estimated how long the Afghan government would hang on. The Taliban essentially took control of the country on August 15.
‘The assumption was that more than 300,000 Afghan national security forces that we had trained over the past two decades and equipped would be a strong adversary in their civil wars with the Taliban. That assumption that the Afghan government would hold on for a period of time beyond military draw down turned out not to be accurate,’ he admitted.
He pushed back against critics who said the evacuation should have started sooner. He said it would have been chaos no matter when it started.
‘I respectfully disagree. Imagine if we begun an evacuation in June or July, bringing thousands of American troops and evacuating more than 120,000 people in the middle of a civil war. There still would have been a rush to the airport. A breakdown of confidence and control of the government and still would have been very difficult and dangerous mission. The bottom line is, there’s no evacuation from the end of a war that you can run without the kinds of complexities and challenges and threats we faced, none,’ he said.
He paid tribute to the ‘selfless courage’ displayed by U.S. service members and diplomatic staff for evacuating Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul.
They ‘did their job and did it well,’ Biden said.
President Biden defended his decision to leave Afghanistan and praised the work of Americans there
Taliban fighters in Kabul on Tuesday
Biden also argued the world was different since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan nearly 20 years ago, shortly after the September 11th attacks.
He said there are new threats America has to deal with.
‘We succeeded in what we set out to do in Afghanistan over a decade ago. We stayed for another decade. It was time to end this war. This is a new world,’ he said.
‘The world is changing. We’re engaged in a serious competition with China. We’re dealing with the challenges on multiple fronts with Russia. We’re confronted with cyber attacks and nuclear proliferation,’ he said.
‘We can do both, fight terrorism and take on new threats that are here now and we’ll continue to be here in the future. There’s nothing China or Russia rather that, would want more in this competition that on the United States to be bogged down another decade in Afghanistan,’ he added.
Biden’s speech, originally scheduled for 1:30 p.m., was pushed back to 2:45 p.m. and then began shortly before 3:30 p.m.
And Tuesday’s speech doesn’t mark the end of the Afghan conundrum for the president.
He has to deal with the Taliban take over of the country and relocation of thousands of Afghan refugees in the months to come.
Additionally, Republicans are expected to make it a political issue in the 2022 midterms.
Biden has faced much criticism for his handling of the situation in Afghanistan.
And the president’s approval rating has taken a nose dive in the wake of the Afghanistan evacuation and withdrawal. Only 38% of Americans approved of his handling of the situation, according to a ABC News/Ipsos survey released Sunday.
The situation also has hurt Biden’s campaign argument that he should be elected for his competence and experience. Some Democrats, many Republicans and foreign allies had pleaded with him to extend the August 31st deadline but the administration argued it would not make a significant difference on the ground there.
Meanwhile, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told ABC’s Good Morning America that the U.S. intends to continue sending health, food and other forms of humanitarian aid to the Afghan people.
He also said that other forms of cash aid, including economic and developmental assistance, would depend on whether the Taliban ‘follow through on their commitments’ including to allow safe passage for Americans still in Afghanistan.
‘It’s going to be up to them and we will wait and see by their actions how we end up responding in terms of the economic and developmental assistance,’ he said.
Sullivan insisted that any aid would flow through ‘international institutions’ and not directly to the Taliban, however the militant group is now in full control of the country’s government and banking system.
The diplomats above, including Amb. Ross Wilson, were some of the last to leave Kabul as the embassy closed out of Afghanistan and transferred its mission to Qatar
One of the last US Air Force aircraft takes off from the airport in Kabul on August 30
A crowd carries makeshift coffins draped in NATO’s, U.S. and a Union Jack flags during a mock funeral on a street in Khost, Afghanistan on Tuesday taunting Western forces after their withdrawal
The US Army then released a nightvision image of Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and the ground commander of the Kabul evacuation, boarding a plane as the last U.S. soldier to leave Afghanistan
On the first day in Afghanistan without the Americans, coffins draped with the US, UK and French flags as well as NATO’s insignia were paraded through the streets of Khost on Tuesday by crowds waving the Taliban’s flag.
Fireworks lit up the sky and celebratory gunfire rattled as the final American troops left on Monday night.
In Kandahar – a traditional Taliban stronghold – thousands also turned out waving white Taliban flags to celebrate what the group is referring to as its ‘independence day’, hours after the final American troops boarded an evacuation flight out of the country.
On Monday, the United States withdrew from Afghanistan, marking the end of a 20-year occupation that cost over $2 trillion and claimed the lives of more than 170,000, including 2,356 US military deaths.
The White House says that since 2002 the US has poured $36 billion in civilian assistance, including $787 million specifically intended to support Afghan women and girls, and nearly $3.9 billion in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.
Between the years 2013 and 2018, nearly $300 billion in U.S. taxpayer money flowed as aid to other countries, according to watchdog group OpenThe Books.com.
Afghanistan is now fully under the control of the Taliban.
‘This victory belongs to us all,’ said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid from the tarmac of the Hamid Karzai International Airport, where the last American plane departed.
Taliban special forces fighters arrive inside the Hamid Karzai International Airport after the U.S. military’s withdrawal
Afghanistan is now fully under the control of the Taliban – above Taliban soldiers in Kabul
The Taliban take control of Hamid Karzai International Airport after the completion of the U.S. withdrawal
The Harmid Karzai International airport in Kabul after the Taliban take over
Afghan refugees arrive at Dulles International Airport in Virginia
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Monday evening there are between 100-200 Americans left in Afghanistan who want to leave.
‘We believe there are still a small number of Americans, under 200 and likely closer to 100, who remain in Afghanistan and want to leave,’ he said.
The Pentagon said Monday that more than 122,000 people, including 5,400 Americans, have been evacuated since July.
There are no American diplomats left in Afghanistan and the State Department has moved its diplomatic mission in the country to Doha, Qatar.
He also blamed stranded Americans for waiting until the last minute after the last US jets left the country, despite President Biden promising to stay until all Americans were evacuated.
In an MSNBC interview, Kirby said the military would no longer play a role in helping them get out but was confident diplomatic efforts would be enough – and said the desperate situation was ‘not completely unlike’ others around the world.
‘We have Americans that get stranded in countries all the time,’ he said bluntly.
The United States ended its presence in Afghanistan on Monday, marking the end of a nearly 20 years in the country.
The final C-17, with the call sign MOOSE 88, lifted off from Hamid Karzai International Airport at 3:29 pm East Coast time, after the clock in Kabul clicked past midnight, making it August 31st there.
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