President Biden passionately argued Thursday that the United States could no longer afford the human cost or strategic distraction of the war in Afghanistan, arguing that the United States had achieved its original goal – to drive al-Qaeda out of the country and hunting down Osama bin Laden – and that the Afghan government and armed forces must be responsible for their own futures.
In a half-hour conversation, Mr Biden was alternately defensive about his decision to leave the country and angry with his critics. He once asked if they would send their sons and daughters into battle in what has become a civil war. He said all American combat troops would leave the country by August 31, and argued that the American withdrawal “will be safe and orderly, with the safety of our troops being a priority upon their departure”.
“We didn’t go to Afghanistan to build a nation,” said Biden from the East Room of the White House. “And it is only the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people to decide about their future and how they want to run their country.”
Mr Biden’s speech just days after the US withdrew from Bagram Air Base, which was the center of operations for the 20 Years War, marked his formal recognition that the US could not change the country’s course.
“No nation has ever united Afghanistan, no nation. Empires went there and didn’t, ”he said, referring to the British occupation of the country in the 19th century and Soviet efforts to take control three decades ago. Both efforts failed, and Mr Biden essentially added the United States to the list.
“I’m not going to send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan without reasonable expectations of a different outcome,” Biden said. But when answering questions from reporters following his prepared comment, he also denied claims that American intelligence had concluded that the capital, Kabul, might fall, saying it was not comparable to what happened in Saigon in 1975 than the North Vietnamese over the south.
“There will be no circumstance in which people from Afghanistan are lifted from the roof of a US embassy,” said Biden. Elsewhere he added: “I trust the capacity of the Afghan military.”
The withdrawal of American troops was accompanied by reports of increasingly dire situations on the ground as local government forces crumbled before the Taliban gaining territory as they approach Kabul. In just over two months, the Taliban managed to capture at least 150 of Afghanistan’s 421 districts.
Mr Biden seemed to acknowledge this reality when he told reporters, “The mission has not failed – not yet.”
In an interview with Fox News on Wednesday, John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said the Biden administration continues “to push for a peaceful, politically negotiated solution,” adding that the Pentagon would do so without a formal presence in the country.
“We are all concerned about the security situation in the area,” said Kirby. “That is out of the question.”
Only 650 soldiers are expected to remain in the country to protect the US Embassy in Kabul and Kabul International Airport. But officials said the Pentagon would be authorized, at least until September, to deploy 300 additional troops to Afghanistan if necessary for security reasons or emergencies.
When asked about concerns that Taliban control could lead to widespread barriers to education for Afghan women, Mr Biden recalled a trip where a student told him that without an American military presence, she was dreaming of becoming a doctor.
“The young woman said ‘you can’t go, you can’t go’ – it was heartbreaking,” said Mr Biden. “‘You can’t go,’ she said, ‘I want to be a doctor.'”
But Mr Biden insisted that even with the withdrawal of US forces, efforts to protect women would continue.
“Well, that’s why we spent so much time and money training the Afghan security forces to defend them,” he said.
As the Taliban consolidates power in Afghanistan, the threat to American allies remaining in the country grows. Senior officials said the Biden administration is preparing to move thousands of Afghan interpreters, drivers, and others who have worked with American forces to other countries to protect them while they apply for entry into the United States.
In his remarks, Mr Biden also referred to plans for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, an issue raised during the visit of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to the White House last week. The Biden government has allocated $ 266 million for humanitarian aid and $ 3.3 billion for security assistance.
“At my meeting with President Ghani and Chairman Abdullah just two weeks ago, I emphasized that the Afghan leaders must come together and work towards a future that the Afghan people want and deserve,” Biden said in his remarks.