Former President George W. Bush said Monday that he feels “deep sadness” over the Taliban’s recent takeover of Afghanistan, which came nearly 20 years after he ordered the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that first drove the Taliban from power.
“Our hearts are heavy for both the Afghan people who have suffered so much and for the Americans and NATO allies who have sacrificed so much,” reads a letter by Bush and his wife, former first lady Laura Bush.
Bush also addressed U.S. troops who have served in Afghanistan, saying they did not go to war in vain.
“You took out a brutal enemy and denied Al Qaeda a safe haven while building schools, sending supplies and providing medical care,” he said. “You kept America safe from further terror attacks, provided two decades of security and opportunity for millions and made America proud.”
The former president warned last month that President Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan would leave Afghan women and girls vulnerable to “unspeakable harm.”
Still, as chaos unfolded in Afghanistan on Monday, Biden defended his decision to pull out U.S. forces.
“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.
On Monday, Bush called on Biden to “cut the red tape” and allow for the quick evacuation of Afghan refugees after the Taliban seized Kabul and Afghan president Ashraf Ghani fled the country one day earlier.
The former president said the Afghans “at the greatest risk are the same ones who have been on the forefront of progress inside their nation.”
He said that Biden had vowed to evacuate the Afghans who helped America and its NATO allies during the 20-year war.
“The United States government has the legal authority to cut the red tape for refugees during urgent humanitarian crises. And we have the responsibility and the resources to secure safe passage for them now, without bureaucratic delay,” he said.
The letter adds: “Laura and I are confident that the evacuation efforts will be effective because they are being carried out by the remarkable men and women of the United States Armed Forces, diplomatic corps, and intelligence community.”