Interrupting his vacation, President Biden returned to the White House from Camp David on Monday to address the nation regarding the Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan upon the U.S. withdrawal, arguing American troops should not be fighting and dying in a war that Afghans aren’t willing to fight.
“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said. “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.”
He deflected responsibility, arguing he’s the fourth American president to deal with Afghanistan, which he noted is known as “the graveyard of empires.”
On Sunday, the Taliban’s takeover of the capital, Kabul, forced Americans to abandon the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
“We were clear-eyed about the risk,” Biden insisted. “We planned for every contingency.”
Biden said he “inherited” President Trump’s deal with the Taliban in which troops would withdraw May 1. 2021.
Under Trump, he said, the U.S. already had drawn down from 15,500 troops to 2,500.
“The choice I had to make as your president was either to follow through on that agreement or be prepared to go back to fighting the Taliban during the spring fighting season,” he said.
There would be no “status quo of stability without American casualities,” he said.
Former President Trump reacted with a statement.
“It’s not that we left Afghanistan,” he said. “It’s the grossly incompetent way we left!”
Former Trump national security adviser John Bolton said Biden’s “confession that he sees the unfolding chaos in Afghanistan as validating our retreat is outrageous.”
“This is not an Afghan civil war. We ceded control to a terrorist threat that now endangers innocent US citizens, as before 9/11,” he wrote on Twitter. “This is a huge, potentially fatal mistake.”
CNN anchor Jake Tapper didn’t buy Biden’s declaration that “the buck stops here,” arguing his speech was “full of finger-pointing.”
“You’ve been listening to President Biden speaking at the White House — forced to talk about the worsening crisis in Afghanistan,” Tapper said. “Forced to speak to the nation after the calamity of the Taliban, the takeover of Afghanistan. The president stated that he stands squarely behind the decision he made to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan even though he has, in fact, been forced to send roughly 6,000 back in. The president saying in fact that, if anything, the events of the last few days — this foreign policy and humanitarian disaster — proves to him that he made the right decision, given the fleeing of Afghan politicians from the country and the collapse of the Afghan military.
“The president said that the buck stopped with him but, in fact, this speech was full of finger-pointing and blame, especially for the Afghans,” he said.
The CNN anchor said Biden “did not really get into or accept any blame for the catastrophic exit that we have been watching on television for the last several days.”
‘Would have made no difference’
Biden admitted that the current situation “did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.”
But he blamed Afghan leaders, who “gave up and fled the country,” and the Afghan military, which “collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.”
“Americans shouldn’t fight and die in a war that Afghans aren’t willing to fight themselves,” he said.
Biden argued he couldn’t provide Afghans “with the will to fight,” and waiting another year, five years or even 20 “would have made a difference.”
He opened his address arguing that America already has achieved its original objective of going after “those who attacked us on 9/11” and making sure al-Qaida could not use Afghanistan as a base.
“Nation building” was not part of the U.S national interest, he argued, which was preventing a terrorist attack on the American homeland.
‘We pulled the plug on them’
Retired Gen. Jack Keane, who served as U.S. Army vice chief of staff, said Biden’s speech was largely defensive and contained factual errors.
Saying the Afghan army is not up to the fight doesn’t tell the whole story, he told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto. Since 2014, U.S. forces have provided air support and intelligence to the Afghan army, which has suffered some 50,000 casualties.
That created a “stalemate,” Keane said, “that enabled us to protect the American people, making sure al-Qaida could not resurrect itself.”
“We pulled the plug on them and they collapsed,” he said. “And that’s a fact.”
Keane also insisted that Biden presented a “false choice.”
“No one recommended to him to put in thousands of additional forces,” he said. “It was to maintain the 2,500 forces there with air power and intelligence.”
Keane noted the bipartisan Afghan Study Group, comprised of Republican and Democratic senators, concluded 4,500 troops was enough to keep al-Qaida from returning to Afghanistan.
Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin said Monday she just received “a first hand account that the Taliban have already started going house to house in Kabul to look for any Afghan Special Forces who fought alongside the US military.”
“The Taliban have all the records of those who served from the KKA (AFG Special Forces),” she wrote on Twitter.
See Biden’s address:
In July, Biden dismissed fears the American withdrawal would allow the country to fall into the hands of the Taliban, rejecting comparisons to Vietnam and the fall of Saigon.
“The Taliban is not the south — the North Vietnamese army. They’re not — they’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability,” Biden said. “There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy … of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable.”
Biden said last month the “likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”
“The Afghan government and leadership has to come together. They clearly have the capacity to sustain the government in place … there’s not a conclusion that, in fact, they cannot defeat the Taliban,” he said.
Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday that American citizens will not be given priority in evacuation over Afghans who have applied for special immmigrant visa) applicants,” he told Fox News reporter Jacqui Heinrich.
Kirby confirmed to Heinrich that the Defense Department will place 30,000 Afghan refugees with special immigrant visas at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Fort Bliss in Texas following the collapse of Kabul.
Top House Republican: ‘Mistake that will haunt us for decades’
On Sunday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called for a congressional investigation into Biden’s execution of the withdrawal, calling it a “mistake that will haunt us for decades.”
He told Punchbowl News he wants to see the intelligence assessment Biden relied on. And the top House Republican wants to know how the Afghan army collapsed so quickly after 20 years of American support and training.
He said the withdrawal should not have been done at the height of the Taliban fighting season, in the summer, and Biden should not have been “so public” about the withdrawal date.
“How does the rest of the world look at us? They like that the president doesn’t tweet but they don’t … think America is very tough,” McCarthy said.
China’s state-run Global Times newspaper celebrated on Sunday the “complete humiliation” for the United States, Breitbart reported. The communist nation’s Foreign Ministry indicated it would be open to relations with a new Taliban regime.
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