(WASHINGTON) — In an address to the nation on the crisis in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden conceded that the Taliban takeover of the country unfolded faster than anticipated, but insisted that he remains “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw American troops.
“I will not repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past — the mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely in a conflict that is not in the national interests of the United States, of doubling down on a civil war in a foreign country, of attempting to remake a country through the endless military deployments of U.S. forces,” Biden said.
While Biden said he ultimately bore responsibility for the situation in Afghanistan, declaring “I am president of the United States of America, and the buck stops with me,” he also faulted Afghan forces for the Taliban’s rapid advance.
“We gave them every chance to determine their own future. (What) we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future,” he said.
“There are some very brave and capable Afghan special forces units and soldiers,” the president continued. “But if Afghanistan is unable to mount any real resistance to the Taliban now, there is no chance that one more year, five more years or 20 more years of U.S. military boots on the ground would have made any difference.”
Biden also blamed his predecessor for the current situation in Afghanistan, claiming an agreement former President Donald Trump cut with the Taliban while he was in office left him with only two options: End the U.S. military mission or reignite the conflict.
Biden has repeatedly pointed out that he is the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan and adamantly insisted he won’t pass it on to a fifth commander-in-chief.
“So I’m left again to ask of those who argued that we should stay, how many more generations of America’s daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghanistan’s civil war when Afghan troops will not? How many more lives — American lives — is it worth?” Biden said.
Biden also argued that ending the military mission in Afghanistan would free up counterterrorism resources to address broader threats to the homeland posed by jihadist groups throughout Africa and the Middle East.
But concerns within the intelligence community that Afghanistan will revert to an incubator for extremism remains. Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators during a briefing that the Pentagon would reassess the threat posed by Al -Qaida now that the Taliban have retaken the country.
As conditions in Afghanistan deteriorate, Republicans are pouncing on the White House, calling the drawdown an embarrassment for the nation.
“What we have seen is an unmitigated disaster — a stain on the reputation of the United States of America,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday.
Few Democrats have rushed to publicly defend the Biden administration. In a statement released before the president’s remarks, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, called the images being broadcast out of Afghanistan “devastating” and vowed “to ask tough but necessary questions about why we weren’t better prepared for a worst-case scenario involving such a swift and total collapse of the Afghan government and security forces.”
Biden denied that national security officials were caught off guard, insisting “we were clear-eyed about the risks. We planned for every contingency.”
He also offered little in the ways of an explanation as to why the planned withdrawal had unraveled into a chaotic evacuation effort.
Biden did not take any questions from the reporters gathered in the East Room following his speech, his first public remarks on Afghanistan in nearly a week.
The president was previously scheduled to remain at Camp David until Wednesday, but returned to the White House to deliver the address. He departed again for Camp David shortly after he concluded his remarks.
The White House said Biden had been receiving regular updates from his advisors throughout the weekend and released a photo of Biden being briefed in a video conference Sunday.
Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.