Biden Defends Afghanistan Pullout amid Chaos in Kabul, Acknowledges Taliban Takeover Caught U.S. by Surprise

President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 12, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

President Biden defended his decision to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan during an address to the nation delivered Monday, one day after the Taliban routed government forces and took over the capital city of Kabul.

“I stand squarely behind my decision,” he said. “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces. That’s why we’re still there, we were clear-eyed about the risks, we planned for every contingency. But I always promised the American people I would be straight with you.”

“The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated,” he added.

While he had argued for months that the Afghan government was well-positioned to hold off the Taliban without U.S. assistance, Biden pivoted during the Monday address, arguing that the government’s rapid defeat proved that no amount of continued U.S investment would have secured the country against Taliban aggression.

“We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future,” Biden said.

“How many more American daughters and sons should fight for Afghanistan, when the Afghanistan military won’t?” he continued.

Scenes of chaos and desperation played out in Kabul ahead of Biden’s address, one day after the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani fled the country as Taliban militants entered the capital city of Kabul, signaling the collapse of the government.

The Biden administration has acknowledged the country fell much faster than expected — between August 6 and August 13, the Taliban overtook 17 provincial capitals.

Just last week, ahead of the fall of the capital, the Biden administration believed Kabul could fall to the Taliban within 90 days; an earlier assessment by the CIA months ago warned the city could fall in six months.

Still, Biden stood by his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the country, nearly 20 years after U.S. forces drove the Taliban out of Kabul in 2001.

“I am president of the United States of America and the buck stops with me,” he said, adding that he does not regret the decision.

He later added that while he knows his decision “will be criticized,” he would prefer to accept that judgment than to pass the decision on to a fifth American president.

However, Biden seemed to sidestep criticism that the withdrawal had been poorly executed, instead, he largely focused on the decision to pull out U.S. forces. He only briefly addressed concerns that the U.S. had not worked to evacuate vulnerable Afghan civilians soon enough.

He claimed the evacuation was slowed because “they did not want to leave earlier” and because the Afghan government discouraged the U.S. from triggering “a mass exodus.”

In recent days the administration has worked to rewrite history, now seemingly shifting its messaging from “Afghans are ready to lead” to “Afghans will never be ready to lead.”

Just 39 days ago, Biden claimed that a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was not inevitable. He argued that “the Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped — as well-equipped as any army in the world — and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban.  It is not inevitable.”

He claimed that the Afghan army was “better trained, better equipped, and more … competent in terms of conducting war” than the Taliban.

Now the administration has shifted gears. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday that “despite the fact that we spent 20 years and tens of billions of dollars to give the best equipment, the best training and the best capacity to the Afghan national security forces, we could not give them the will.”

“They ultimately decided that they would not fight for Kabul and they would not fight for the country, and that opened the door to the Taliban to come into Kabul very rapidly,” he said. 

Yet Sullivan failed to acknowledge that Biden had chosen to withdraw American forces in the middle of fighting season and a gathering Taliban offensive, without any other U.S. base in the region or any substitute for U.S. air support or the American contractors who service Afghan planes, as noted by National Review’s editors.

The administration did not appear to reconsider its plans, even as the Taliban quickly advanced an offensive across the country over the course of a week.

Discussing the situation during a press briefing last Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki implied that a commitment to international law might deter the Taliban.

“The Taliban also has to make an assessment about what they want their role to be in the international community,” she said.

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with diplomats from China, Pakistan and Russia in Doha to warn the Taliban they could be considered international pariahs if they continue their offensive, according to a State Department spokesman.

Now that the administration’s diplomatic efforts have failed, Sullivan has suggested “no amount” of training, equipment, money or time spent would put the Afghan army in a position to succeed.

Sullivan said he believes “the worst-case scenario” for the U.S. would be a situation where the country was “adding back in thousands and thousands of troops to fight and die in a civil war in Afghanistan when the Afghan army wasn’t prepared to fight itself.”

“That was the alternative choice Joe Biden faced,” he said, adding that the president was left with “bad choices.”

Meanwhile, those bad choices are playing out on the ground in Afghanistan.

On Monday, all U.S. evacuation flights from Kabul’s international airport were temporarily suspended, the result of hundreds of Afghans flooding the tarmac, desperate to evacuate the country and escape the Taliban.

Seven people died in the chaos, according to the Associated Press.

Amid the pandemonium, U.S. troops shot and killed two armed men at the airport after the men approached American troops deployed to the airport to facilitate the evacuation of Americans and other individuals, a U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal

The report adds that at least three Afghans who clung to the side of an Air Force jet evacuating personnel from the airport were run over and killed on Monday as chaos unfolded at the passenger terminal of Kabul’s airport as thousands of Afghans swarmed the airport hoping to escape the country.

Witnesses also reported seeing three bloodied bodies lying on the ground just outside the terminal building, according to the paper. 

“The scenes we’re seeing on the ground, they’re gut-wrenching,” Biden said in his address.

PHOTO GALLERY: The Fall of Afghanistan

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