Joe Biden first reaction: Striking a defiant tone, 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.
Biden said he had to choose between sticking to a previously negotiated agreement to withdraw US troops this year or sending thousands more service members back into Afghanistan to fight a “third decade” of war. Biden, sounding resolute in the face of withering criticism of his handling of the situation, said he chose the latter so as not to repeat past mistakes. He reiterated that he had no regrets.
“I stand squarely behind my decision,” the president told the nation in a televised address from the White House East Room after he flew back from the Camp David presidential retreat. “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces.”
Many disagree with 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. 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. 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, 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.
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.