US President Joe Biden on Monday defended his decision to pull US troops out of Afghanistan and criticised Afghan politicians and soldiers for deserting and leaving the country in the hands of the Taliban.
“Afghan politicians have surrendered, they have fled (…). Our troops cannot and should not fight and die in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight”, Biden defended during his first appearance before the media after the definitive collapse of Afghanistan.
Biden again recalled the money that the United States has spent on this war and listed the economic efforts that have been made to train, educate and maintain the Afghan security forces and lamented that the only thing that they are not in a position to provide them with is “the will to fight for their country”.
“We spent over a billion dollars. We train an Afghan military force of some 300,000 troops, incredibly well equipped. A force larger in size than the armed forces of many of our NATO allies. We gave them all the tools they could possibly need. We paid their salaries, we maintained their air force,” President Biden listed.
“There are some very brave and capable Afghan special forces units and soldiers, but if Afghanistan cannot now mount real resistance to the Taliban, there is no chance that the US presence for another year, or another five, or another twenty years, would have been worth anything.
“I defend my decision vehemently. After twenty years I’ve learned the hard way that there is never a good time to pull American troops out, that’s why we’re still there,” Biden emphasised at the beginning of his speech, in which he acknowledged that events have moved faster than expected.
At the beginning of his speech, Biden stressed that the mission in Afghanistan “was never nation-building”, but rather “catching” those responsible for the September 11 attacks and preventing al-Qaeda from using Afghan territory “as a base” for its terrorist operations against the United States.
“We did that. We never gave up the search for Osama bin Laden and we got him. That was a decade ago. Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to be nation-building (…). Today, as always, our only interest is in preventing a terrorist attack on America’s homeland.
Biden explained that when he inherited the agreement reached between the Taliban and former President Donald Trump, he had to decide whether to honour it, or be willing to send more US soldiers to fight for a third decade, while Afghan forces refuse to do so.
“The harsh reality was that he either honoured the agreement to withdraw our troops or he escalated the conflict by sending thousands more American troops back into combat (…) How many more lives must we waste in Afghanistan,” Biden asked.
“I will not repeat the mistakes we have made in the past. The mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely in a conflict that is not in America’s national interest, of redoubling a civil war in a foreign country, of trying to remake a country through endless US military deployments,” he said.
So Biden, who is the fourth White House occupant to have to deal with the war in Afghanistan, said there would not be a fifth. “I am President of the United States and the responsibility is mine (…). I will not approve of that responsibility falling on a fifth President,” he said.
Biden also said that the recent images from Afghanistan, with the desperation and the case of the last few hours at Kabul airport “are heartbreaking”, especially for all those who have spent time working to support the Afghan people, as well as those who have lost loved ones over the years.
Nevertheless, he insisted that the decision “is the right one” for the American people and said he was willing to take the criticism that comes his way, assuring that the move honours those “brave people” who put their lives on the line for the United States.
Finally, Biden issued a warning to the Taliban, reminding them that the current US military presence in Kabul is limited to the evacuation of diplomatic personnel and other workers, and that if it is threatened or attacked in any way, “the response will be forceful”.
“US troops are carrying out this mission as professionally and effectively as ever, but it is not without risk. (…) We have made it clear to the Taliban that if they attack our personnel or disrupt our operation (…) the response will be swift and forceful,” Biden warned.
“We will defend our people with devastating force if necessary,” insisted the US president, who concluded by stressing that once this mission is completed, the withdrawal will be concluded and “America’s longest war after 20 long years of bloodshed will come to an end.