A day after the last U.S. troops left Afghanistan, President Joe Biden defended “the extraordinary success” of the military withdrawal, declaring the end of the 20-year conflict a promise kept.
“Only the United States had the capacity and the will and the ability to do it, and we did it today,” Biden said.
After thanking the men and women of the U.S. military for putting themselves on the line for a “mission of mercy” to evacuate more than 120,000 people, Biden paid tribute to the 13 servicemembers who were killed by a suicide bomber in the final days of the evacuation.
“We owe them in their families a debt of gratitude we can never repay, but we should never, ever, ever forget,” he said.
Their deaths, as well as the deaths of more than 160 Afghans, only intensified public disapproval of Biden’s handling of the final days of the long war, from both political allies and adversaries, after the administration dramatically misjudged how quickly the capital of Kabul would fall to the Taliban.
While Biden said he took ultimate responsibility for the frenzied evacuations over the last few weeks, he made it clear he believed there were others that bore responsibility for how the end of a 20-year war transpired, blaming the Trump administration for setting the course for withdrawal and the Afghan army for failing to hold off the Taliban’s advance.
Kabul’s rapid fall resulted in a chaotic scramble to evacuate Americans and Afghans who had worked with the U.S. who were now targets of the Taliban.
“I take responsibility for the decision,” Biden said. “Now, some say we should have started mass evacuation sooner and couldn't this be done...in a more orderly manner? I respectfully disagree.”
He similarly shot down any disapproval of his decision not to delay the August 31 withdrawal deadline, as some members of Congress had called for in order to get additional Americans and Afghan partners of the U.S. out of the country. Biden said the decision was based on the “unanimous recommendation of my civilian and military advisors, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and all the service chiefs and the commanders in the field.”
“Let me be clear, leaving August the 31st is not due to an arbitrary deadline,” he said. “It was designed to save American lives.”
Biden also addressed the growing concern for Americans left behind in the country. As Gen. Frank McKenzie indicated on Monday, some Americans couldn’t make it to the airport in time to be airlifted out of the country. But Biden again defended his administration. He said the government had begun reaching out to Americans in Afghanistan in March, contacting them 19 times with warnings about the need to leave the country. Most of those Americans decided to leave, Biden noted.
“Now we believe that about 100 or 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan with some intention to leave. Most of those who remain are dual citizens, longtime residents, but earlier decided to stay because of their family roots in Afghanistan,” he said. “For those remaining Americans, there is no deadline.”
While Biden pledged to continue to play a role in humanitarian efforts in the country going forward, he said the combat mission that no longer had a “clear purpose” was finished.
“My fellow Americans, the war in Afghanistan is now over,” he said. “It was time to be honest with the American people, again, we no longer had a clear purpose and an open ended mission in Afghanistan.”
“After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, I refuse to send another generation of America's sons and daughters to fight a war,” he said. “It should have ended long ago.”