President Joe Biden on Monday defended his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, saying the quick Taliban takeover as U.S. troops departed proved how the 20-year effort to build an Afghan fighting force had failed.
“I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces,” Biden said in remarks delivered from the East Room of the White House.
Biden made his first public remarks since the Taliban finalized their takeover on Sunday, only two weeks after their offensive began, when he returned to Washington after spending the weekend at the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland.
Biden’s comments come amid rising criticism of his administration’s handling of the country’s rapidly worsening situation, which spiraled into chaos after the terrorist group occupied Kabul and triggered mass evacuations across the city as residents and government officials sought a way out.
“This did unravel more swiftly than we anticipated,” the president confessed, but he maintained his underlying opinion that stopping American involvement was the appropriate and responsible thing to do.
Biden claimed that Afghan officials had given up and departed the nation while the US-backed force melted away. He claimed that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had assured him that his security forces would battle the Taliban, but that they did not.
“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” Biden said. “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We could not provide them with the will to fight for that future.”
“I know my decision will be criticized, but i would rather take all that criticism than pass this decision on to” another president, he said.
The U.S. mission in Afghanistan was “never supposed to be nation building,” but rather to merely degrade the Taliban’s ability to aid in launching terrorist attacks, he asserted.
“I am president of the United States and the buck stops with me,” Biden said. “I am deeply saddened by the facts we now face, but I do not regret my decision to end America’s war-fighting in Afghanistan and maintain a laser-focus on our counter-terrorism mission there and in other parts of the world.”
The president set an August 31 timetable for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan months ago. Experts and authorities have recently been taken aback by the Taliban’s rapid conquest of terrain on their route to Kabul.
Former President Donald Trump began taking steps to withdraw troops from Afghanistan early last year, and later stated that he hoped to have all American soldiers out by Christmas 2020.
Biden pressed for Taliban participation in peace negotiations and first stated that forces would be out by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist acts that sparked the Afghan war.
While diplomatic talks failed, the Taliban became more active in their military plans in recent weeks, seizing a number of provincial capitals.