In the most solemn of his series of recent addresses on Afghanistan, President Joe Biden praised the bravery of 13 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghans killed by an apparent suicide bomber in Afghanistan Thursday and vowed to complete the U.S. mission.
“Tough day,” he began, as he took his place behind the podium.
Calling the service members “heroes who’ve been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others,” he recounted the Herculean effort to airlift “more than 100,000” Americans, Afghan allies, and their families to safety ahead of the withdrawal deadline on Aug. 31.
“They are part of the bravest, most capable, the most selfless military on the face of the earth,” he said. “And they’re part of simply what I call the backbone of America.”
ISIS-K, an Afghanistan affiliate of ISIS, a group mentioned by Biden in a speech given just three days ago, claimed responsibility for the bloodshed.
“We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said, addressing the attackers. “I will defend our interests in our people with every measure of my command.”
“Here’s what you need to know. These ISIS terrorists will not win,” he said. “We will rescue the Americans, we will get our Afghan allies. Our mission will go on, America will not be intimidated.”
While vowing to continue with evacuations, Biden also seemed to concede in response to a reporter’s question that there are limits to how much can be done for the Afghans who are desperately trying to escape the country and avoid a likely death sentence under Taliban rule.
“I know of no conflict, as a student of history, no conflict when a war has ended where one side was able to guarantee that everyone … would get out,” he said, noting that “getting every single person out can't be guaranteed.”
Biden was also questioned about whether the United States was too trusting of the Taliban, which had been screening people at the airport perimeter.
“It’s not a matter of trust, it’s a matter of mutual self interest,” Biden responded, saying there has been “no evidence” seen by any commanders in the field of “collusion between the Taliban and ISIS in carrying out what happened today[.]”
The remarks were the latest in a series Biden has given as a part of a pledge to keep Americans informed about the progress of the U.S. withdrawal from the country’s longest war since the swift fall of Kabul plunged Afghanistan into turmoil.
And while the conditions on the ground have fluctuated from bad to worse with every passing day, Biden has remained resolute that the war was coming to an end.
When asked by a reporter on Aug. 20 whether the withdrawal date of Aug. 31 would need to be pushed in order to get more Americans and Afghan allies out, given the chaos outside of the gates of Kabul’s airport, Biden predicted they wouldn’t need the extra time.
“I think we can get it done by then, but we’re going to make that judgment as we go,” he said.
On Monday, Biden took an even harder line on the deadline, telling reporters that, while he had the State Department and the Pentagon draft contingency plans, the U.S. would leave Afghanistan at the end of the month, citing concerns that days later became a reality.
“Every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and allied forces and innocent civilians,” he said.
The events of Thursday, he said, did not change the calculus, saying commanders on the ground had told him they should remain to finish the job.
“They made it clear that we can and we must complete this mission, and we will,” Biden said. “And that’s what I wanted them to do.”