President Joe Biden delivered a lack luster speech at the White House on Monday, defending his decision to bring home U.S. troops before blaming Afghan leaders for their failure to prevent the country collapsing.
“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said.”After 20 years I’ve learned the hard way. That there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.”
It was the first time the president had spoken publicly about the unfolding crisis in six days. He was forced to return from Camp David amid hostile headlines about his absence from Washington while Americans were being rescued from Kabul airport.
While he said, missteps during the past twenty-years were to blame for the chaos at the Kabul airport, where throngs of Afghans are desperately seeking escape.
Biden then went on to say, “I am president of the United States of America, and the buck stops with me.”
But only up to a point. He said the blame for such a rapid disintegration lay not with him, but his predecessor as president and Afghanistan’s leaders.
‘The truth is – this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated,’ he said, his eyes narrow.
“So what’s happened? Afghanistan’s political leaders gave up and fled the country.”
Adding, “The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.”
He delivered his speech on a day that brought some of the most disturbing images so far of the confusion and disorder in Kabul.
A video showed desperate Afghans clinging to the sides of a U.S. military plane as it tried to leave the city’s airport. Another showed people plunging to their deaths from a C-17 transport aircraft.
In his remarks, Biden insisted the rapid collapse of the country only reinforced his belief that bringing troops home was the right thing to do.
“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” he said.
Biden also pointed a finger at former President Donald Trump‘s agreement with the Taliban to pull out American troops by May 1, 2021.
“So I’m left again to ask of those who argue 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?” Biden said.
“How many more lives, American lives is it worth? How many endless rows of head stones at Arlington National Cemetery?”
‘I’m clear in my answer: 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 interest of the United States,’ he continued.
“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,” the president added.
His speech lasted about 18 minutes. At its conclusion, he walked out of the East Room, ignoring reporters’ shouted questions.
Twenty minutes later his motorcade left for Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., where Marine One was waiting to take him back to Camp David.
Biden’s speech repeated many of the talking points already circulated by White House officials, who asked the simple question: If not now, when?
But critics said he did nothing to address the sense that the U.S. withdrawal was hasty and ill-planned.
Former President Trump hit back at Biden.
“It’s not that we left Afghanistan,” he said in an emailed statement. “It’s the grossly incompetent way we left!”
Vandenberg Coalition chairman and former senior State Department official Elliott Abrams said it was a ‘disgraceful performance.’
He added: ‘The president never addressed the real questions: why would he not leave a few thousand troops to provide air power?
‘Why did he not understand that his decisions would create chaos?’
Jim Carafano, of the conservative Heritage Foundation, said: ‘It is unconscionable that the Biden administration accelerated this withdrawal without having plans in place to get all American citizens and allied
Afghan partners who assisted American forces out of the country first.
“It is shocking that there was no contingency planning in place to respond to the worst-case scenario.”
Biden was originally supposed to stay at Camp David until Wednesday as part of an August vacation.
Just last month, Biden had shrugged off concerns that the Taliban were poised to return to power, saying the Afghan military had the advantage in men and arms
“The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely,” he said.
The past week has proved him wrong and plunged his presidency into crisis.
At least eight people were killed during chaos at the Kabul airport on Monday, as thousands of Afghans traveled to the airfield in hopes of escaping the Taliban.
Two of those killed were armed Afghans shot dead by US troops.
Another three were run over by taxiing jets. An additional three were stowaways who fell from the engines of a US Air Force jet as it took off.
Meanwhile, Taliban fighters are going door to door to find Afghan special forces who fought alongside the U.S., Fox News reported.
A day earlier President Ashraf Ghani flew out of the country.