President Joe Biden defended his withdrawal from Afghanistan in a speech Tuesday, one day after the final U.S. troops left the Taliban-run country following two decades of war, insisting the departure was timed appropriately, and calling the effort to evacuate Americans and Afghans from the country an “extraordinary success,” Forbes reported.
Biden lauded the military for helping to evacuate roughly 90% of U.S. citizens who wanted to leave Afghanistan and 100,000 Afghans in the weeks following the Taliban’s mid-August takeover of Kabul (the Pentagon acknowledged this week it didn’t evacuate everybody it wanted to by its Monday withdrawal).
He offered gratitude to the 13 U.S. service members who died in a suicide bombing at the gates to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport last week, an attack linked to the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan.
The president said he didn’t allow military evacuations to continue after August 31 because a prolonged presence in Afghanistan may have put more U.S. personnel at risk, especially since the Trump administration promised the Taliban last year all U.S. troops would leave the country by May 2021.
He also rebuffed critics who say the military should have started the process of rescuing U.S. citizens and Afghan allies from Kabul en masse months ago, arguing the evacuation would have created chaos and rattled confidence in the Afghan government even if it started in June or July.
Biden acknowledged the U.S.-backed Afghan government crumbled amid this summer’s Taliban offensive more quickly than expected, but he blamed Afghan leaders for “corruption and malfeasance” and chided former President Ashraf Ghani for fleeing the country.
“We completed one of the biggest airlifts in history, with more than 120,000 people evacuated to safety,” Biden said. “That number is more than double what most experts thought were possible.”
Between 100 and 200 Americans still want to leave Afghanistan, Biden said, many of whom are dual citizens or people with familial ties to the country. Biden pledged to keep trying to evacuate any U.S. citizens who want to leave: “There is no deadline,” he said. But this mission could require cooperation from the Taliban, and Biden said he will hold the militant group to its promise to allow people to leave Afghanistan.
Biden has faced intense criticism for his handling of the withdrawal, but he’s argued the only alternative to leaving Afghanistan this year was prolonging — and possibly escalating — a war he views as obsolete, unwinnable and disconnected from the United States’ strategic interests. “I was not going to extend this forever war, and I was not extending the forever exit,” Biden said Tuesday.