President Joe Biden, returning from vacation to give remarks Monday, deflected blame surrounding the Afghanistan debacle and asserted that his administration had “every contingency” in place in the event Kabul fell quickly.
The situation in Afghanistan rapidly deteriorated amid the U.S. withdrawal process, with the Taliban quickly taking over major cities throughout the country. The U.S. announced it was sending thousands of troops back into Afghanistan to help with the evacuation process throughout the weekend after the Taliban took over in just more than one week.
The president, echoing talking points issued by the White House to Democrat lawmakers prior to Biden’s remarks, appeared to place blame on former President Donald Trump’s negotiations with the Taliban, the Afghan military and political leaders in the region. He returned to the White House on short notice, cutting his August vacation short to address the nation amid backlash over his handling of the situation.
“When I came into office, I inherited a deal that President Trump negotiated with the Taliban,” Biden said. “Under his agreement, U.S. forces would be out of Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, a few months after I took office. U.S. forces had drawn down from roughly 15,500 American forces to 2,500 troops in the country. The Taliban was at its strongest militarily since 2001. The choice I had to make as your president was either to follow through on that agreement or be prepared to go back to fighting the Taliban in the middle of the spring fighting season.”
“The truth is: This did unfold more quickly than we anticipated,” Biden admitted at one point before going back to pointing fingers. “So what’s happened? Afghanistan’s political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight. If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced the U.S.–Afghanistan removal was now and it’s the right decision.”
Biden, answering critics’ question on the seemingly delayed response in getting allies out, claimed “some of the Afghans did not want to leave earlier.” He said this situation could have happened anytime in the past two decades and reminded Americans that he’s the fourth American president to oversee this war. The president also said that the U.S. “gave them [Afghanistan] every chance to determine their own future.”
“[What] We could not provide them was the will to fight for that future,” Biden declared.
Biden admitted the scenes on the ground in Afghanistan amid the turmoil have been “gut-wrenching” to watch. Videos show throngs of people at the Kabul airport climbing on airplanes in an attempt to escape the country. Reports indicate multiple deaths amid the chaos as well.
Biden, after acknowledging the news coming out of Afghanistan, promised to “continue to support the Afghan people” and said he plans to “continue to speak out for the basic rights of the Afghan people.”
Despite the situation unfolding in the region, Biden remained steadfast in his decision to pull out, telling the nation that the “mission … was never supposed to have been nation building” or “creating a unified, centralized democracy.” He defended the move and said the administration was prepared with various plans – including one to address the fall of Kabul. Ultimately, Biden put his foot down, decidedly telling America that “the buck stops with me.”
The administration’s seemingly chaotic response to the Taliban overtaking Kabul has left critics calling out Biden for what some say resembles the fall of Saigon in 1975. The administration, however, has condemned that connection, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying Sunday on ABC News that it “is manifestly not Saigon.”
“How many more lives — American lives — is it worth?” the president asked during Monday’s remarks.
“I stand squarely behind my decision,” he declared.
The president also detailed the “current mission in Afghanistan,” which includes evacuating Afghan allies. He said the plan is to “transport out thousands of American citizens” out of Afghanistan “in the coming days” and touted his “Operation Allies Refuge” plan, which the administration announced in July as they tried to help special immigrant visa applicants leave the country. (RELATED: DOD Prepping US Military Bases To House Up To 30,000 Afghan Refugees, Americans Won’t Be Given Evacuation Priority)
“I will not mislead the American people by claiming that just a little bit more time in Afghanistan will make all the difference. I’m deeply saddened by the facts we now must face, but I do not regret my decision,” Biden declared, taking no questions from the press after his speech.