President Biden declared the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan a success in a defiant speech on Tuesday, even as hundreds of Americans were left behind in the country after the last U.S. troops flew out of the Kabul airport.
“The bottom line: 90 percent of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave,” Biden said. “For those remaining Americans, there is no deadline. We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out.”
Biden said that over 5,500 Americans who wanted to leave were evacuated from Afghanistan, along with thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. during the two-decade war. The evacuation was marred by chaotic scenes at the Kabul airport, where Afghans attempted to ride the wheels of planes taking off from the runway, and ISIS-K killed 13 American troops and almost 200 Afghans in a suicide bombing on Thursday.
U.S. forces withdrew to the airport as Taliban militants took over the city, after the group seized control of all major Afghan provinces more quickly than expected. Congressmen including Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) have criticized the decision to lead the evacuation from Kabul instead of Bagram Air Field, the American base evacuated by the U.S. on July 1.
“The decision to end the military air lift operation out of Kabul airport was based on the unanimous recommendation of my civilian & military advisers…and the commanders in the field,” Biden said on Tuesday.
Repeating a point he has made previously, Biden blamed the swift Taliban takeover on the collapse of Afghan government forces.
“That assumption, that the Afghan government would be able to hold on” until the withdrawal was complete “turned out not to be accurate,” Biden said. However, the president insisted that his administration prepared for that possibility: “We were ready when the Afghan security forces…didn’t hold on as long as expected.”
Biden also insisted that there was no way to conduct the withdrawal more smoothly.
“Some say, we should have started mass evacuations sooner. And couldn’t this have been done in a more orderly manner? I respectfully disagree,” Biden said. “The bottom line is there is no evacuation from the end of a war that you can run without the complexities and challenges we faced. None.”
Biden noted that the State Department contacted Americans “19 times” since March 2021 warning them to leave Afghanistan. However, Biden stated on July 8, just over a month before the Taliban took Kabul, that it was “highly unlikely” that the group would take control of the country.
“The likelihood the Taliban is going to be overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely,” Biden told reporters at the time, adding later, “There’s going to be no circumstance [in which] you see people being lifted from the roof of the Embassy of the United States from Afghanistan.”