“I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces,” President Joe Biden said in a televised address from the White House.
Washington: President Joe Biden broke days of silence Monday on the chaotic American pullout from Afghanistan, doubling down on his decision as he fired scorching criticism at the country’s former Western-backed leadership for failing to resist the Taliban.
“I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces,” he said in a televised address from the White House.
As images of chaos and desperation beamed in from Kabul, where American soldiers were trying to mount an evacuation from the airport while Taliban fighters flooded the city, Biden said: “The buck stops with me.”
Brushing off criticism that the evacuation is a debacle, he said the priority is to stop a war that had expanded far beyond its initially modest goals of punishing the Taliban for links to Al-Qaeda after 9/11.
“Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation-building,” he said, vowing that despite the departure of US troops anti-terrorism operations would continue.
Biden said “thousands” of US citizens and Afghans who had worked with American forces are to be evacuated over the coming days. He threatened a “devastating” military response if the Taliban launch attacks in the meantime.
Underlining his show of confidence, Biden left the White House soon after the speech to return to his weekend retreat at Camp David. He had flown into Washington just hours earlier to give the speech after coming under pressure to address the nation.
Blaming the Afghans
While Biden said he took responsibility for the fate of the US mission, he lashed out at the former Afghan government and military commanders who were put in place, organized and supported by Washington over the last 20 years.
Instead of standing up to the advancing Taliban — a highly experienced guerrilla force but more lightly armed than the US-supplied Afghan army — the government fled.
“We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We could not provide them the will to fight for that future,” Biden said.
Partly acknowledging the surprising suddenness of the final Taliban assault, Biden said “this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.”
But rather than dwell on the shocking scenes of Afghans mobbing the airport or respond to criticism that the White House was unprepared, Biden hammered home his wider message that ending the war is what matters.
“Our true strategic competitors, China and Russia, would love nothing more than the United States to continue to funnel billions of dollars in resources and attention into stabilizing Afghanistan indefinitely,” he said.
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