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Biden Forcefully Defends Ending Two-Decade US War in Afghanistan


President Joe Biden speaks about the end of the war in Afghanistan from the State Dining Room of the White House, Aug. 31, 2021, in Washington.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday forcefully defended his decision to end the country's two-decade war in Afghanistan that leaves Taliban insurgents in power, just as they were in 2001.

"We no longer need to fight a war that should have ended long ago," Biden said in a half-hour address from the White House. "I refuse to open another decade of war in Afghanistan."

He cited the high cost of the conflict to the United States — 2,461 service members killed, another 20,744 injured and $300 million a day in expenditures. But he said it is time to focus on new threats from around the world, whether from other terrorists in Africa and the Middle East, economic threats from China, or cyberattacks from inside Russia.

WATCH: War in Afghanistan Is Now Over

Biden: War in Afghanistan Is Now Over
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The Afghan conflict was initiated in late 2001 by former President George W. Bush, who invaded Afghanistan to overrun training grounds for al-Qaida terrorists who attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001, killing nearly 3,000 people.

Biden said that after he took office in January, he faced the decision whether to honor the pact agreed to by former President Donald Trump to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by last May, a deadline Biden ultimately extended by five months.

"The choice was leaving or escalating this war," Biden said. But he said Afghanistan can be monitored from outside its borders to "make sure it can never again be used" as a base for an attack on the U.S.

WATCH: Afghan Security Forces 'Did Not Hold on as Long as Anyone Expected'

Biden: Afghan Security Forces 'Did Not Hold on as Long as Anyone Expected'
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Two Republican critics of Biden attacked his performance in ending the Afghan conflict.

"President Biden's unseemly victory lap was detached from reality," Senator Ben Sasse said. "His callous indifference to the Americans he abandoned behind enemy lines is shameful."

Senator Kevin Cramer declared, "President Biden's withdrawal was a complete failure. His actions are unfitting for the office he holds and are embarrassing our country on the world stage."

Biden said he takes responsibility for the chaotic, deadly end to the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, in which 13 service members were killed last week in a suicide bomb attack by an ISIS-Khorasan attacker.

But Biden vowed again, "To those who wish America harm, we will hunt you down … and make you pay."

WATCH: 'I was not extending a forever exit'

Biden: 'I was not extending a forever exit.'
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The U.S. says it has already killed an insurgent who planned the bombing.

Biden acknowledged that 100 to 200 Americans who wanted to be evacuated from Kabul remain in Afghanistan, but he said 90% of Americans who wanted to leave had been evacuated on military flights over the last 17 days — about 5,500 people in all.

He said the U.S. and other countries around the world would insist that the Taliban live up to its promise to allow the remaining Americans to leave if they want, along with Afghans who supported the U.S. war effort.

"We're far from done" in helping others be evacuated from Afghanistan, he said.

For weeks, Biden and other members of his administration discussed the possibility of staying longer than his self-imposed August 31 deadline, balancing the challenges and benefits of a massive operation to evacuate more U.S. citizens and Afghan civilians against credible security threats.

"It was the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs and of all of our commanders on the ground to end our airlift mission as planned," Biden said Monday and reiterated in his White House address. "Their view was that ending our military mission was the best way to protect the lives of our troops and secure the prospects of civilian departures for those who want to leave Afghanistan in the weeks and months ahead."

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