President Joe Biden has branded the evacuation from Afghanistan an extraordinary success.
r Biden made the comment in his first public remarks since the United States withdrew its military from the country yesterday, ending a 20-year war.
“Last night in Kabul, the United States ended 20 years of war in Afghanistan,” Biden said Tuesday afternoon from the State Dining Room at the White House after the evacuation concluded.
Republicans have said Biden should have extended an August 31 deadline to withdraw until every American was removed from the country.
About 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan, according to the State Department, and the president said his decision was not “arbitrary.”
The deadline “was designed to save American lives,” he said.
The US would have risked casualties in renewed combat with the Taliban had its forces remained, he said.
“I was not going to extend this forever war, and I was not extending a forever exit,” he said.
“It was time to end this war,” he added later, pounding his fist on his lectern.
He described the US airlift from Kabul’s airport over the last month as unprecedented. More than 117,000 people were removed, including about 6,000 Americans.
“No nation, no nation has ever done anything like it in all the history,” he said.
President Biden said 90% of Americans who wanted to leave Afghanistan were able to do so, and the United States remained committed to helping the remaining 100 to 200 US citizens who had some intention to leave.
“The bottom line is 90% of Americans who were in Afghanistan and wanted to leave were able to leave,” he said. “For those remaining Americans there is no deadline. We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out.”
He said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was leading continued diplomatic efforts to ensure safe passage for any American, Afghan partner or foreign national who wanted to leave Afghanistan after the August 15 takeover by the Islamist Taliban.
Biden said the international community would hold Taliban leaders accountable for their promise to permit freedom of travel.
“The Taliban has made public commitments, broadcast on television and radio across Afghanistan, on safe passage for anyone wanting to leave, including those who worked alongside Americans,” he said.
“We don’t take them by their word alone, but by their actions, and we have leverage to make sure those commitments are met.”
Biden said the US government had reached out 19 times to Americans in Afghanistan since March, offering to help them leave the country.
After the US military-led evacuations began 17 days ago, US officials reached out again and identified around 5,000 Americans who had decided earlier to stay, but now wanted to leave, he said.
In the end, the president said, more than 5,500 Americans were evacuated, along with thousands of citizens and diplomats from allied countries, as well as 2,500 locally employed staff at the U.S. embassy and their families, and thousands of Afghan translators and interpreters and others who supported the United States.
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