Biden defends Afghanistan exit as fears of collapse grow
President Biden addressed the country Thursday afternoon to defend his withdrawal strategy in Afghanistan as the Taliban continues to gain ground and after U.S. troops abandoned their largest base under cover of darkness.
What he's saying: Biden set an Aug. 31 deadline to end U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, and denied that a Taliban takeover of Kabul was "inevitable" after America left.
- “Nearly 20 years of experience has shown us, and the current security situation confirms, that just one more year of fighting in Afghanistan is not a solution but a recipe for being there indefinitely," Biden said.
- He responded directly to critics, arguing that "the status quo is not an option" because the Taliban would resume attacks on U.S. troops, potentially necessitating deployments of additional troops just to protect the existing U.S. presence.
- "How long are you willing to stay," Biden asked. “Would you send your own son or daughter?”
Driving the news: U.S. troops pulled out of Bagram Air Base near Kabul in the middle of the night late last week without notifying the Afghan troops set to take control of it (the Pentagon says the Afghans knew the departure was coming, just not when).
- Thousands of military and civilian vehicles lay abandoned. Looters flooded in after noticing that electricity to the base had been cut off.
- It was a highly symbolic moment, as the sprawling air base had been the hub of U.S. operations in Afghanistan during two decades of war. The withdrawal is now 90% complete.
- Meanwhile, the Taliban has accelerated its advances around the country, capturing a major border crossing with Iran Thursday, per Reuters.
In his remarks, Biden repeatedly put the onus for what happens next on "the Afghan people" and the government in Kabul, which he urged to "come together" and to find a way to share power with the Taliban.
- Biden also stressed that the beleaguered Afghan Security Forces have superior numbers, training and equipment and thus should be able to repel the Taliban.
- Asked whether the U.S. would bear responsibility for future civilian casualties, he replied adamantly, “No, no, no!"
Biden said the original goals of the U.S. invasion had long since been achieved, and thus America's exit was "quite frankly overdue." He added: "We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build.”
- Press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier in the day that there would be no "mission accomplished moment" when the U.S. completes its withdrawal by Sept. 11. "It's a 20-year war that has not been won militarily," she said.
- But Biden rejected parallels to the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War, saying there would be no scenes of "people being lifted off the roof of an embassy."
- Biden did confirm that the U.S. would be evacuating Afghans who worked with the U.S. troops to third countries while their visa applications were processed, but he would not say which countries those were.
What to watch: The U.S. is not the only country that's concerned about a potential implosion in Afghanistan.
- Tajikistan has already seen over 1,000 Afghan troops retreat across its border, potentially foreshadowing a refugee crisis in Central Asia — a prospect that concerns both Russia and China.
- Moscow hosted Taliban representatives Thursday to stress that the conflict must not spread beyond Afghanistan's borders.