Washington: US President Joe Biden has conceded that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan happened “more quickly” than anticipated, but insisted that he remains “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw American troops from the war-torn country, amidst “gut-wrenching” images emerging out of Kabul.
In his address to the nation from the White House on Monday following the dramatic fall of the Afghan national government to the Taliban, a defiant Biden rejected blame for messy pull out amid chaotic scenes of Afghans clinging to US military planes in Kabul in a desperate bid to flee their home country.
He described the images coming out of Afghanistan as “gut-wrenching” but said: “I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces.”
“I stand squarely behind my decision…We were clear-eyed about the risks. We planned for every contingency. But I always promised the American people that I will be straight with you,” Biden said.
He blamed the US-backed Afghan government and military for allowing the Taliban to take over.
“The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated. So, what happened? Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country,” he said, a day after embattled Afghan President Ashraf Ghani feld the country.
He said American troops cannot be dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.
“The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight. If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending US military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision,” said the US president, who briefly interrupted his summer holiday, returned to Washington from the presidential resort of Camp David, in the state of Maryland.
The Taliban on Sunday declared victory after President Ghani fled the country and his government collapsed.
The militants’ return to rule brings an end to almost 20 years of a US-led coalition’s presence in the country.
“We spent over a trillion dollars. We trained and equipped an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong. Incredibly well equipped. A force larger in size than the militaries of many of our NATO allies, Biden said.
“We paid their salaries, provided for the maintenance of their air force, something the Taliban doesn’t have. The Taliban does not have an air force. We provided close air support. We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We could not provide them with the will to fight for that future, Biden said.
“There are some very brave and capable Afghan special forces units and soldiers. But if Afghanistan is unable to mount any real resistance to the Taliban now, there is no chance that one year, one more year, five more years, or 20 more years of US military boots on the ground would have made any difference, he said.
“And here’s what I believe to my core. It is wrong to order American troops to step up when Afghanistan’s own armed forces would not. The political leaders of Afghanistan were unable to come together for the good of their people, unable to negotiate for the future of their country when the chips were down, he added.
Recalling his meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chairman Abdullah Abdullah at the White House in June and telephonic conversations in July, Biden said, “We talked about how Afghanistan should prepare to fight its civil wars after the US military departed, to clean up the corruption in government so the government could function for the Afghan people.”
“We talked extensively about the need for Afghan leaders to unite politically. They failed to do any of that. I also urged them to engage in diplomacy, to seek a political settlement with the Taliban. This advice was flatly refused. Ghani insisted that the Afghan forces would fight. But obviously, he was wrong, he said.
Biden asserted that he will not repeat the mistakes the US has made in the past, the mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely in a conflict that is not in the national interest of America, of doubling down on a civil war in a foreign country, of attempting to remake a country through the endless military deployments of US forces.
“Those are the mistakes we cannot continue to repeat because we have significant vital interests in the world that we cannot afford to ignore, he said.
I also want to acknowledge how painful this is to so many of us. The scenes we’re seeing in Afghanistan, they’re gut-wrenching, particularly for our veterans, our diplomats, humanitarian workers, for anyone who has spent time on the ground, working to support the Afghan people, for those who have lost loved ones in Afghanistan, and for Americans who have fought and served in the country, serve our country in Afghanistan, he said.
Within hours of the Taliban takeover, chaos erupted at Kabul’s international airport as desperate Afghans raced to flee the country. A harrowing video captured Monday showed Afghans storming the military side of the airport and clinging to a US Air Force plane as it attempted to move down the tarmac.
In the video, at least three people appear to fall to their death as the aircraft took off.
As the Taliban took hold of the country, Democrats on Capitol Hill and former Obama administration officials joined Republicans in publicly criticising Biden’s handling of the situation.