Biden defends exit, blames Afghan leaders & military for collapse

WASHINGTON, Aug 17 (APP): President Joe Biden has stood by his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan, while also acknowledging the situation descended into chaos faster than he expected and accepting some responsibility.

“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said Monday afternoon in remarks from the White House, adding that his administration planned for every contingency. “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.”

The speech marked Biden’s first public comments since the Taliban completed a stunningly swift takeover of Afghanistan on Sunday after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and the fighters took over the presidential palace in Kabul .

“I know my decision will be criticized, but I would rather take all that criticism” than violate a campaign pledge and pass on an unwinnable war to yet another U.S. president, Biden said.

On Monday, scenes of chaos unfolding at the Kabul airport as desperate Afghans clamoured to board U.S. military evacuation flights blanketed U.S. airwaves and social media. The pandemonium forced the United States to temporarily halt flights evacuating U.S. citizens and at-risk Afghans until the military regains control of the airport.

The U.S. military deployed 6,000 troops to help secure the airport and conduct evacuations — roughly double the number that was in Afghanistan before Biden ordered the withdrawal.

Biden has been criticized by Republicans, Democrats and other allies over the chaotic withdrawal and collapse of the Afghan government to the Taliban.

During his speech, Biden attributed the swift collapse of Afghanistan to the Taliban to the decision by Afghan political leaders to flee the country and a failure by the Afghan military to fight for the country. He argued that the developments reinforced the decision to exit Afghanistan.

Earlier, in New York, Pakistan’s U.N. Ambassador Munir Akram has said that President Biden’s endorsement of the previous American administrations’ decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan was “a logical conclusion to this conflict.”

The Pakistani envoy told reporters at U.N. headquarters on Monday that the international community must now work together “to ensure an inclusive political settlement for a long-term peace, security and development of Afghanistan.” He said Pakistan’s stance “that the conflict in Afghanistan never had a military solution” has been confirmed.

Ambassador Akram said the best time to end the conflict through negotiations probably was when U.S. and NATO troops were at a maximum military strength in Afghanistan.

He added that “therefore, endorsement by the Biden administration of the previous U.S. administrations’ decision of troop withdrawal was indeed a logical conclusion to this conflict
in his speech, Biden also accepted responsibility for the current deteriorating security situation, while acknowledging criticism of his decision.

“I will not mislead the American people by claiming that just a little more time in Afghanistan will make all the difference. Nor will I shirk from my share of responsibility for where we are today and how we must move forward from here,” Biden said. “I am the president of the United States of America and the buck stops with me.”

Biden also echoed other senior administration officials by insisting he was boxed into a corner by the decision by his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, whose administration signed a deal with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. forces by this past May.

“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,” Biden said.

Biden has long been in favour of shrinking the U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan and announced earlier this year that he would withdraw U.S. forces by the Sept. 11 anniversary. He later moved up his deadline to Aug. 31.

He also sought to deflect criticism of his failure to evacuate more Afghans before Kabul fell. Lawmakers in both parties have been pushing for months to provide assistance to Afghans who helped the U.S. military, but prior to Sunday, the administration had only flown out about 2,000 people out of tens of thousands who have applied for visas.

“I know there are concerns about why we did not begin evacuating Afghan civilians sooner,” Biden said. “Part of the answer is some of the Afghans did not want to leave earlier, still hopeful for their country. Part of it was because the Afghan government and its supporters discouraged us from organizing a mass exodus to avoid triggering, as they said, a crisis of confidence.”

Meanwhile, a “coordination committee” that includes former president Hamid Karzai and Ghani’s peace negotiator Abdullah Abdullah, and that was formed to communicate with the Taliban leadership, indicated that things were proceeding toward a formal handover of power.

“We are in touch with the leaders of the respected Islamic Taliban movement,” Karzai said in a video statement. “We have positive discussions with them, we talked about necessary matters. Our ongoing cooperation is very good.”

Abdullah, in his own video, said that “our main effort at this juncture is to make sure the people of the city live in peace without any bloodshed. We know that with the new developments, people have been going through difficult times.

We hope that the contacts and talks we have had about this issue and other important issues of the country turn out to be useful,” he said, noting that “we are also in touch with other leaders and tribal elders in the country.”

The committee is believed to be in direct contact with Taliban co-founder and political director Abdul Ghani Baradar, who led the insurgents’ delegation to the earlier peace negotiations and remains in Doha.