Joe Biden says he stands 'squarely behind' decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan

Mr Biden said he would rather take the criticism over the fallout in Afghanistan than leave the decision to withdraw to another president
Joe Biden says he stands 'squarely behind' decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan

President Joe Biden: 'The truth is this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.' Picture: Evan Vucci/AP

President Joe Biden said he stands “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, and that the government’s collapse was quicker than anticipated.

Mr Biden said he was faced with a choice between sticking to a previously negotiated agreement to withdraw US troops this year or sending thousands more service members back into Afghanistan for a “third decade” of war.

Mr Biden said he will not repeat mistakes of the past and did not regret his decision to proceed with the withdrawal.

“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Mr Biden said in a televised address to the nation from the White House East Room.

“After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces.” 

Mr Biden said he would rather take the criticism over the fallout in Afghanistan than leave the decision to another president.

He said the decision to leave Afghanistan is “the right one for America.”

The US President said the collapse of the Afghan government occurred much faster than his administration expected.

“The truth is this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.”

Taliban fighters stand guard in front of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul (Rahmat Gul/AP)

Afghanistan erupted into disarray as the Taliban swept across the country in recent days, taking the capital of Kabul this weekend as the United States has been attempting to withdraw its forces, diplomats, allies and Afghans who worked with the coalition over the course of the 20-year war.

But the president said that the rapid end of the Afghan government only vindicates his choice to end the war.

Mr Biden added: “American troops cannot and should not be fighting the war, and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”

He said that while keeping a US presence in Afghanistan was no longer a US national security interest, the US will continue to support the Afghan people, push for regional diplomacy and speak out for the rights of Afghans.

'Gut-wrenching' scenes at Kabul Airport

People run alongside a US Air Force C-17 transport plane, some climbing on it, as it moves down a runway of the international airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Picture: Verified UGC via AP
People run alongside a US Air Force C-17 transport plane, some climbing on it, as it moves down a runway of the international airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Picture: Verified UGC via AP

Mr 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”.

Earlier, hundreds of Afghans rushed onto the tarmac at Kabul Airport as thousands tried to escape after the Taliban seized power. 

Some clung to the side of a US military plane before take-off, in a widely shared video that captured the desperation as America’s 20-year war comes to a chaotic end.

Another video showed the Afghans falling as the plane gained altitude over Kabul. US troops resorted to firing warning shots and using helicopters to clear a path for transport aircraft.

Senior US military officials said the chaos at the airport in Kabul left seven people dead on Monday, including some who fell from a departing American military transport jet.

The Pentagon confirmed Monday that US forces shot and killed two individuals it said were armed, as Mr Biden ordered another battalion of troops — about 1,000 — to secure the airfield, which was closed to arrivals and departures for hours Monday because of civilians on the runway.

The speed of the Afghan government’s collapse and the ensuing chaos posed the most serious test of Mr Biden as commander in chief, and he came under withering criticism from Republicans who said he had failed.

Mr Biden expressed confidence in his decision to proceed with the withdrawal and said he was prepared to take the heat.

He said he was “deeply saddened by the facts we now face, but I do not regret my decision”.

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