U.S. President Joe Biden said he stands “squarely” behind his decision to withdraw U.S. military forces from Afghanistan in his first public comments since the Taliban took full control of the South Asian country.
In a national television address Monday at the White House, Biden said the U.S. mission in Afghanistan “was never supposed to be nation building” and said the terrorism threat that brought the U.S. military to the country has spread well beyond Afghanistan to other nations.
He acknowledged that the Taliban’s victories across Afghanistan unfolded “more quickly than we anticipated.”
However, Biden said, it is wrong to order American troops to engage in further fighting when Afghanistan’s troops were not willing to do so.
“If anything,” he said, “the developments of the past week reinforce” his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
Biden traveled back to the White House from Camp David on Monday, a day after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan as Taliban fighters reached the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Biden has consistently defended his decision to pull all U.S. troops from the country by August 31.
“One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country,” Biden said in a statement on Saturday. “And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me.”
U.S. forces have been in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years, spanning the administrations of four U.S. presidents. Biden announced in April that all U.S. forces would return home from Afghanistan by the end of August, rebuffing a Pentagon recommendation for the U.S. to maintain a small force in the country.
Biden said at the time he would not pass on the responsibility to bring U.S. troops home to a fifth president.
The Taliban intensified attacks in Afghanistan since the start of May, when U.S. and NATO allies began pulling their last remaining troops from the country. A recent Taliban offensive allowed the group to make sweeping territorial gains in a little more than a week, culminating with the collapse of the Afghan government.
The U.S. has retained control of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, but chaos has ensued as thousands try to flee the country.
Biden was briefed Monday on the situation ahead of his remarks.
"This morning, the president was briefed by his national security team, including the secretary of Defense and chairman Milley, on the security situation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, and ongoing efforts to safely evacuate American citizens, U.S. Embassy personnel and local staff, SIV applicants and their families, and other vulnerable Afghans,” the White House said.
Even as the Biden administration has defended its decision to leave Afghanistan, it has expressed shock at how quickly the country fell to the Taliban.
“It is certainly the case that the speed with which cities fell was much greater than anyone anticipated,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told NBC’s Today show.
Several Republican lawmakers have sharply criticized the administration over the chaos in Afghanistan.
Some information in this report came from the Associated Press.