US President Joe Biden said on Monday he stood “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan despite searing images of chaos in Kabul that exposed the limits of US power and plunged him into the worst crisis of his presidency.
Breaking his silence on the US pullout after scenes of bedlam dominated television news channels for days, Biden blamed the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan on Afghan political leaders who fled the country and the unwillingness of the US-trained Afghan army to fight the militant group.
He did not shy away from heaping criticism at the Western-backed government that was overthrown in Kabul, saying US troops could not defend a nation whose leaders “gave up and fled,” as did Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
“We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We could not provide them with the will to fight for that future,” Biden said, adding he could no longer ask US soldiers to risk their lives in the country, 20 years on.
“Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation-building.”
He warned Taliban leaders they would face “devastating force” should they interfere with the US pullout.
Biden was forced to send US troop reinforcements to Kabul to ensure a safe withdrawal of American diplomatic personnel and civilians as well as Afghan citizens who worked with the US and could face reprisals.
The panicked evacuation, coming weeks after Biden predicted the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan was not inevitable, has dented America’s image on the global stage just as Biden has sought to emphasise to world leaders that “America is back” after former president Donald Trump’s tumultuous four years.
The pullout has also raised fears that militant groups like Al Qaeda could reconstitute under Taliban rule.
Biden, rejecting harsh criticism of his Afghan policy from Republican and Democratic lawmakers, some former generals and human rights groups, was resolute in defending his withdrawal from a 20-year war that endured through four presidencies.
“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said in a televised speech at the White House. “After 20 years I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces. That’s why we’re still there.”