President Joe Biden on Monday defended the military withdrawal from Afghanistan but acknowledged that the Taliban takeover has been faster than expected as his administration scrambles to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul.
Biden said the US went into Afghanistan to fight terrorism but the mission “was never supposed to have been nation-building.” Biden, who has long opposed a buildup of troops in Afghanistan, said he stands “squarely” behind the withdrawal.
But Biden noted that he “inherited a deal that President Trump negotiated with the Taliban,” which required US forces to withdraw by 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,” he said. “There would have been no cease-fire after May 1.”
Biden acknowledged that the collapse of the government “did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.”
“Afghanistan 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 that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision,” he said. “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”
“We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.”
Cheers and jeers:
CNN anchor Jake Tapper criticized the speech.
“The president said that the buck stopped with him, but in fact, the speech was full of finger-pointing and blame, especially for the Afghans,” he said, adding, “He did not really get into or accept any blame for the catastrophic exit that we have been watching on television in the last several days.”
“Beyond the nihilistic political face swap, Trump allies blaming Biden, Biden allies blaming Trump is a catastrophe of epic proportions, one years, decades, really, in the making,” he added.
CNN correspondent Clarissa Ward, who is on the ground in Kabul, said Biden’s speech would “sound like hollow words” to Afghans, noting that Biden did not get into the “core issue” of the “catastrophic manner of this withdrawal.”
But MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace argued that Americans have a different view than the Washington DC news media.
"Ninety-five percent of the American people will agree with everything he just said," she said. "Ninety-five percent of the press covering this White House will disagree."
"For an American president to finally be aligned with what such an overwhelming majority of Americans think about Afghanistan is probably a tremendous relief to the American people.”
Democrats call for more refugees:
The United Nations has warned of a refugee crisis stemming from the unrest in Afghanistan. While countries like Canada have already announced plans to take in 20,000 Afghan refugees, the US has made no such commitment.
“Foreign policy matters: After 20 years of U.S. effort,” said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, “Afghanistan was left with a corrupt government and an ineffectual military. At this moment, we must do everything we can to evacuate our allies and open our doors to refugees.”
“If we don’t start putting everyday people first, no matter what country they’re born in, this will keep happening,” said Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib. “Let’s start by opening our country to shelter refugees fleeing the consequences of our actions.”
“What’s happening in Afghanistan currently is a humanitarian crisis. Let’s be clear: there has never been, and will never be, a U.S. military solution in Afghanistan,” said California Rep. Barbara Lee. “Our top priority must be providing humanitarian aid and resettlement to Afghan refugees, women, and children.”