President Joe Biden on Monday defended his decision to pull US troops from Afghanistan, despite the rapidly deteriorating situation in the country.

US President Joe Biden speaks about the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House August 16, 2021, in Washington, DC.
US President Joe Biden speaks about the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House August 16, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

President Joe Biden on Monday defended his decision to pull US troops from Afghanistan, despite the rapidly deteriorating situation in the country.

In a televised address to the nation from the White House, Biden said he stands “squarely behind” the decision to proceed with the withdrawal, while admitting that the Afghan government's collapse was quicker than anticipated.

The US President made his first public appearance since the Taliban took control of Kabul a day ago, after a lightning offensive saw the group capture a number of major cities across the country.
Biden said he was faced with a choice between sticking to a previously negotiated agreement to withdraw US troops this year, or sending thousands more service members back into Afghanistan for a “third decade” of war. He said he will not repeat mistakes of the past.

"After 20 years, I've learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces.”

Biden said he'd rather take the criticism over the fallout in Afghanistan than pass the decision to a fifth president. He said the decision to leave Afghanistan is “the right one for America." Keeping a US presence in Afghanistan was no longer a US national security interest, the president said.

"More quickly than we had anticipated"

Biden admitted that events in Afghanistan unfolded "more quickly than we had anticipated," but put the blame on the Afghan government and Afghan forces.

"We gave them every chance to determine their own future," Biden said, "We could not provide them with the will to fight for that future."

Referring to the Taliban's rapid military advances that saw Afghan government forces either flee or surrender, Biden said Americans should not be fighting in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.

Biden reiterated however that the US national interest in Afghanistan was always principally about preventing terrorist attacks on the US homeland - and that America would continue to "act quickly and decisively" against any terror threat emanating from the country.

"The mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to be nation-building," he said.

READ MORE: 'Catastrophic defeat': How did the Taliban capture Afghanistan so quickly?

The State Department said any US ties with a Taliban government would depend on their respect of human rights and rejection of extremism.

Biden issued a stern warning to the insurgents, saying any threats to US interests would be met with a "devastating" military response.

Chaotic scenes at Kabul airport

Biden described the images coming out of Afghanistan — especially at the airport in Kabul, where Afghans descended in hopes of fleeing the country — as “gut-wrenching." Video of Afghans clinging to a US Air Force plane as it prepared to take off had circulated widely on the internet.

But he did not admit any US fault in how the drawdown was executed. 

About a month ago, Biden batted away the notion of a rapid Taliban takeover.

Biden said Monday the US will continue to support the Afghan people, push for regional diplomacy and speak out for the rights of Afghans.

Senior US military officials said the chaos at the airport in Kabul left seven people dead Monday, including some who fell from a departing American military transport jet. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss ongoing operations.

Afghans rushed onto the tarmac as thousands tried to escape after the Taliban seized power. Some clung to the side of a U.S. military plane before takeoff, in a widely shared video that captured the desperation as America’s 20-year war comes to a chaotic end.

Another video showed the Afghans falling as the plane gained altitude over Kabul. US troops resorted to firing warning shots and using helicopters to clear a path for transport aircraft.

The Pentagon confirmed Monday that US forces shot and killed two individuals it said were armed, as Biden ordered another battalion of troops — about 1,000 — to secure the airfield, which was closed to arrivals and departures for hours Monday because of civilians on the runway.

READ MORE: Afghan women voice their fears about Taliban rule

Mounting criticism

The speed of the Afghan government’s collapse and the ensuing chaos posed the most serious test of Biden as commander in chief, and he came under withering criticism from Republicans who said he had failed.

Critics say the US reputation as a global power has been badly tarnished by the Taliban's victory, nearly 20 years after they were ousted from power by a US-led invasion over their support for Al Qaeda.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the US-led NATO operation in Afghanistan "has not been as successful and has not been achieved in the way that we had planned".

Britain's Defence Secretary Ben Wallace described the Taliban takeover as a "failure of the international community", assessing that the West's intervention was a job only half-done.

The United Nations Security Council said Monday the international community must ensure Afghanistan does not become a breeding ground for terrorism under the Taliban, following an emergency meeting in New York.

"The following days will be pivotal," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. "The world is watching. We cannot and must not abandon the people of Afghanistan."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies