August 18, 2021 3:46:14 am
(Written by Michael D Shear & David E Sanger)
PRESIDENT JOE Biden offered a defiant defence Monday of his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, blaming the swift collapse of the Afghan government and chaotic scenes at the Kabul airport on the refusal of the country’s military to stand and fight in the face of the Taliban advance.
Speaking to the American people from the East Room after returning briefly to the White House from Camp David, Biden said he had no regrets about his decision to end the longest war in United States history. But he lamented that two decades of support failed to turn the Afghan military into a force capable of securing its own country.
“We gave them every tool they could need. We paid their salaries. Provided for the maintenance of their airplanes,” Biden said. “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide was the will to fight for that future.”
Biden acknowledged that the Taliban victory had come much faster than the United States had expected and that the withdrawal was “hard and messy.” As the fourth President to preside over the war in Afghanistan, though, he said that “the buck stops with me.”
“I stand squarely behind my decision,” he said, adding that he would not “shrink from my share of responsibility for where we are today”.
He directed a question to critics of the withdrawal, asking: “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?”
Biden spoke after dramatic images showed a frantic scramble to evacuate the US Embassy in Kabul as Taliban fighters advanced, drawing grim comparisons to the United States’ retreat from Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. Footage of people clinging to a hulking US military transport, even as it left the ground, quickly circulated around the world.
But in his speech, Biden spent far more time defending his decision to depart from Afghanistan than the chaotic way it was carried out.
He rejected criticism from allies and adversaries, insisting that his administration had planned for the possibility of a rapid Taliban takeover and expressing pride that diplomats and other Americans had been evacuated to relative safety at the airport.
“Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country,” he said, accusing the military of laying down its arms after two decades of US training and hundreds of billions of dollars in equipment and resources. “If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending US military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision.”
The political effects of the collapse of the Afghan government caught the White House off guard, even as criticism poured in from Republican and Democratic lawmakers, Afghan activists, foreign policy experts and officials from previous administrations.
On Capitol Hill, Biden’s speech stemmed some of the fallout. Democrats who had criticised the President over the weekend praised him for laying out the costs of America’s lengthy involvement in the war.
“President Biden understands history when it comes to Afghanistan,” said Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, a member of Democratic leadership. “He made the difficult decision to not hand over this longest of American wars to a fifth president, and had he walked away from the withdrawal agreement originally negotiated by President Trump, Taliban attacks on US forces would have restarted and required yet another surge in US troops.”
But Republicans placed the blame squarely on Biden.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the top Republican in the Senate, called it a “monumental collapse.” Senator Mitt Romney, Republican (Utah), said Biden failed to acknowledge the “disastrous withdrawal.”
The President acknowledged criticism that the administration did not move quickly enough to evacuate Afghans who served as translators and other aides. But he said the Afghan government had discouraged a mass evacuation, saying it would cause a “crisis of confidence” in the country’s ability to fight the Taliban.
White House officials said there were “active discussions” throughout the weekend about when Biden should publicly address the situation, and what he would say. Officials said they did not want the President to speak before the situation on the ground in Kabul was stable.
But by Monday, officials had settled on a message in which the President and his top aides would acknowledge that the Taliban takeover was more rapid than they expected, but say the situation was under control and in line with Biden’s goal of finally removing the United States from a never-ending war.
(The New York Times)