President Joe Biden on Monday defended his decision to withdraw all American forces from Afghanistan, saying the US gave Afghans “every chance to determine their own future.”
“We could not provide them with the will to fight for that future,” the president said at the White House. “If Afghanistan is unable to mount any real resistance to the Taliban now, there is no chance that in one more year, five more years, or 20 more years, US military boots on the ground would have made any difference.”
Biden acknowledged that his administration was caught off guard by the rapid deterioration of the Afghan military but said he was confronted by a decision of whether to either follow through on an agreement former President Donald Trump made with the Taliban to pull out all American forces, or dramatically surge the number of service members there.
“There was no status quo of stability without American casualties after May 1. There was only the core reality of either following through on the agreement to withdraw our forces, or escalating the conflict and sending thousands more American troops back into combat in Afghanistan, lurching into the third decade of conflict,” he said.
He was referring to the original May 1 date negotiated by Trump for the US withdrawal to be completed, a deadline that came and went as Biden unilaterally extended it to allow for what his administration had billed as an orderly exit.
The Taliban have rapidly taken Afghanistan in a lightning offensive that blindsided Western powers as government forces melted away. The capital Kabul fell to the group on Sunday after the Afghan government collapsed amid the Taliban’s dizzying advances that prompted former President Ashraf Ghani to leave the country.
Following his departure, former President Hamid Karzai, veteran politician Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and top peace negotiator Abdullah Abdullah have been working to ensure a smooth transfer of power.
Biden has faced criticism from both Democrats and Republicans over the pace of the effort to evacuate Afghans who aided the US and their families during the course of the two-decade old conflict. Just about 2,000 have been relocated out of a pool that included over 20,000 people before the administration expanded the list of those who are eligible.
The president said the former Afghan government urged him not to organize the mass exodus earlier, because they said it would have triggered “a crisis of confidence” amid the US withdrawal.
Biden has authorized some 6,000 American troops to be sent to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport to assist with the evacuation of Afghan refugees and American diplomatic personnel, and he warned the Taliban that if they interfere, they will face a swift reckoning.
“If they attack our personnel, or disrupt our operation, the US response will be swift and forceful,” he said. “We will defend our people with devastating force if necessary.”