President Joe Biden said Monday that it would have been pointless and a betrayal of his promises to Americans to have left US troops in Afghanistan any longer, in a speech that came a day after the Taliban takeover of Kabul.
“I cannot and will not ask our troops to fight on endlessly in another country’s civil war,” Biden said in White House speech Monday, August 16, 2021. “This is not in our national security interest.”
Even as he acknowledged the distress of US veterans who served in Afghanistan, Biden said relatively little about the plight Afghans now face under a brutally repressive regime. Instead, Biden repeatedly faulted Afghanistan’s former government and its troops for failing to fight the Taliban. He blamed the Afghans, questioning their “will” to fight.
“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?” Biden asked.
“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,” he said. “Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building.”
Biden’s speech was largely a response to calls for US troops to remain in Afghanistan. He noted that he inherited from previous President Donald Trump’s an agreement from last year with the Taliban to pull US troops out by May—and faced a choice between honoring that deal or escalating the war again. He emphasized that a drawdown of forces would always be “hard and messy,” characterizing the havoc, and the inability of many Afghans to evacuate, as inevitable.
This framing ignored arguments that US could have withdrawn more slowly or managed the exit at least well enough to not have Afghans hanging off US planes as they attempt to flee. Human rights group say they were shocked the administration had not done more to protect and evacuateAfghans who helped US forces or could easily be predicted to face reprisal from the Taliban.
Biden did acknowledge that his administration was surprised by the speed of the Taliban advance. He also said that prior to its ouster, the prior Afghan government had discouraged the US from organizing a larger exodus of Afghan civilians because they feared triggering a “crisis of confidence.”
Biden cited the chaos in Kabul as vindication of his approach. “The events we’re seeing now,” Biden said, “are sadly proof that no amount of military force would ever deliver a stable, united, secure Afghanistan, known in history as the graveyard of empires”