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An Afghan soldier inside Bagram Air Base after U.S. forces pulled out. Photo: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty.

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.

Go deeper

Oct 14, 2021 - World

Pakistan Airlines halts flights to Kabul citing "heavy-handedness" of Taliban

Passengers board a Pakistan International Airlines flight in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept 13. Photo: Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images

Pakistan International Airlines on Thursday halted flights to Kabul after what it called "heavy-handedness" of Taliban authorities, Reuters reports.

Driving the news: The suspension comes after the Taliban ordered PIA to slash ticket prices, warning that the company's Afghan operations could be blocked if it refused to do so, per Reuters.

Updated Oct 16, 2021 - World

Islamic State claims responsibility for deadly bombing in southern Afghanistan

The mosque after the explosion in southern Kandahar province on Oct. 15. Photo: Murteza Khaliqi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a massive blast that tore through a crowded Shiite mosque in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Friday, killing at least 47 people and injuring dozens more, AP reports.

Why it matters: Friday's attack was the deadliest to strike Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrew its troops from the region and is the second major attack on a Shiite mosque in a week, underscoring the Taliban's growing security threat from other militant groups.

Updated 10 mins ago - Science

Blizzard likely to hit New England this weekend as "bomb cyclone" forms

Computer model projection of the precipitation and wind field from the weekend storm in the Northeast. (Earth.nullschool.net)

A powerful blizzard is likely to strike parts of New England and the Mid-Atlantic beginning Friday and lasting into the weekend, with snow totals that are likely to be measured in feet.

The big picture: The joining of weather systems embedded in both the polar, or northern branch, of the jet stream and the southern branch is projected to create a bomb cyclone. Such storms undergo a process known as bombogenesis, with their minimum central air pressure readings plunging at least 24 millibars in 24 hours.