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Joe Biden says he stands 'squarely behind' Afghanistan decision

President Joe Biden speaks about Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in Washington.   | Photo Credit: AP

Striking a defiant tone, US President Joe Biden said Monday that he stands "squarely behind" his decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan as he acknowledged the "gut-wrenching" images coming out of the country after the swift Taliban takeover of the government.

Mr Biden said he was faced with a choice between sticking to a previously negotiated agreement to withdraw U.S. troops this year or sending thousands more service members back into Afghanistan for a “third decade” of war.

Mr Biden said he will not repeat mistakes of the past and did not regret his decision to proceed with the withdrawal.

“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Mr Biden said in a televised address to the nation from the White House East Room.

"After 20 years, I've learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces," he said.

Many disagree with Mr Biden's decision, angered by the chaos the world witnessed over the weekend as the Taliban ultimately captured Kabul, the capital, and Afghanistan's president left the country.

Also read: Our mission in Afghanistan is successful, says U.S. Secretary of State Blinken

Mr Biden said he'd rather take the criticism over the fallout than pass the decision of how and when to withdraw to a fifth US president.

He said the decision to leave Afghanistan is “the right one for America" because keeping a US presence there was no longer a US national security interest.

‘Gut-wrenching’

Mr Biden described the images coming out of Afghanistan — especially at the airport in Kabul, where Afghans descended in hopes of fleeing the country — as “gut-wrenching." Video of Afghans clinging to a US Air Force plane and running alongside it as prepared to take off had circulated widely on the internet.

But he did not admit any US fault in how the drawdown was executed. And after batting away the notion of a rapid Taliban takeover when questioned a little over a month ago, Mr Biden acknowledged Monday that "the truth is this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated".

He pledged that the US will continue to support the Afghan people, push for regional diplomacy and speak out for the rights of Afghans.

Senior US military officials said the chaos at the airport in Kabul left seven people dead Monday, including some who fell from a departing American military transport jet.

Also read: Taliban assert control over Afghanistan, panic in Kabul

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss ongoing operations.

Afghans rushed onto the tarmac as thousands tried to escape after the Taliban seized power. Some clung to the side of a US military plane before takeoff, in a widely shared video that captured the desperation as America's 20-year war comes to a chaotic end.

Another video showed the Afghans falling as the plane gained altitude over Kabul.

US troops resorted to firing warning shots and using helicopters to clear a path for transport aircraft.

The Pentagon confirmed Monday that US forces shot and killed two individuals it said were armed, as Mr Biden ordered another battalion of troops — about 1,000 — to secure the airfield, which was closed to arrivals and departures for hours Monday because of civilians on the runway.

The speed of the Afghan government's collapse and the ensuing chaos posed the most serious test yet of Mr Biden as commander in chief, and he came under intense criticism from Republicans who said he had failed.

Yet the president said the rapid end of the Afghan government only vindicated his decision, noting how the Afghan army surrendered to the Taliban.

"American troops cannot and should not be fighting the war, and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves," Mr Biden said.

Mr Biden, who is viewed as an experienced foreign policy hand dating to his decades-long career in the Senate, including as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, expressed confidence in his decision and said he was prepared to take the heat.

He said he was “deeply saddened by the facts we now face, but I do not regret my decision".

Mr Biden is the fourth US president to confront challenges in Afghanistan and had insisted he wouldn't hand America's longest war to his successor. But he is under pressure to explain how security in Afghanistan unraveled so quickly, especially since he and others in the administration had insisted it wouldn't happen.

“The jury is still out, but the likelihood there's going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely,” Mr Biden said on July 8.

Just last week, though, administration officials warned privately that the military was crumbling, prompting Biden on Thursday to order thousands of American troops into the region to speed up evacuation plans.

Former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump also yearned to leave Afghanistan, but ultimately stood down in the face of resistance from military leaders and other political concerns.

Mr Biden, on the other hand, has been steadfast in his refusal to change the August 31 deadline, in part because of his belief that the American public is on his side.

A late July ABC News/Ipsos poll, for instance, showed 55 per cent of Americans approving of Biden's handling of the troop withdrawal.


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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 8:17:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/joe-biden-says-he-stands-squarely-behind-afghanistan-decision/article35949261.ece

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