WASHINGTON (AP) – Defensive President Joe Biden called on the US airlift to extract more than 120,000 Americans, Afghans and other allies from Afghanistan to end a 20-year war an “extraordinary success”, though more than 100 Americans and thousands more were left behind.
Twenty-four hours after the last US C-17 cargo plane left Kabul, Biden addressed the nation and vigorously defended his decision to end America’s longest war and withdraw all troops American before the August 31 deadline.
“I was not going to prolong this war forever,” Biden said Tuesday from the White House. “And I wasn’t going to extend an outing forever.”
Biden faced tough questions about how the United States left Afghanistan – a chaotic evacuation with spasms of violence, including a suicide bombing last week that killed 13 U.S. servicemen and 169 Afghans.
He is the subject of strong criticism, in particular from the Republicans, for his management of the evacuation. But he said it was inevitable that the final start of two decades of war, first negotiated with the Taliban on May 1 by former President Donald Trump, would have been difficult, with likely violence regardless. when it was planned and carried out.
“To those who ask for a third decade of war in Afghanistan, I ask, ‘What is the vital national interest? “,” Biden said. He added, “I just don’t think America’s safety and security is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and spending billions of dollars in Afghanistan.
Asked after the speech that Biden seemed angry at some of the criticisms, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president had simply offered his “strong assessment.”
Biden scoffed at Republicans – and some Democrats – who argue that the United States would have been better served by maintaining a small military footprint in Afghanistan. Prior to Thursday’s attack, the US military had not suffered any combat casualties since February 2020 – around the time the Trump administration negotiated its deal with the Taliban to end the war by May of this year.
Biden said breaking the Trump deal would have reignited a shooting war. He said those who prefer to stay at war also fail to recognize the weight of deployment, with a scourge of PTSD, financial hardships, divorces and other problems for US troops.
“When I hear that we could have, should have continued the so-called low-intensity effort in Afghanistan at low risk for our military, at low cost, I don’t think enough people understand how much we have asked for 1 % of this country to put on that uniform, ”Biden said.
Besides all the questions at home, Biden is also adjusting to a new relationship with the Taliban, the militant Islamist group overthrown by the United States after the September 11, 2001 attacks in America, and which is once again in power in Afghanistan. .
Biden tasked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to coordinate with international partners to keep the Taliban on their promise of safe passage for Americans and others who wish to leave in the days to come.
“We don’t just take their word for it, but their actions,” Biden said. “We have leverage to ensure that these commitments are met. “
Biden also rebuffed criticism that he broke his promise to get all Americans out of the country before the US military withdrawal. He said many Americans left behind have dual citizenship, some with deep family roots that complicate their ability to leave Afghanistan.
“At the end of the day: 90% of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave,” Biden said. “For the remaining Americans, there is no deadline. We remain committed to getting them out, if they want to get out. “
Biden repeated his argument that ending the war in Afghanistan was a critical step in recalibrating U.S. foreign policy in the face of growing challenges posed by China and Russia – and counterterrorism concerns that pose a more potent threat to states – United
“There is nothing that China or Russia would prefer, want more in this competition, than the United States getting bogged down in Afghanistan for another decade,” he said.
According to Biden, the war could have ended 10 years ago with the American murder of Osama bin Laden, whose extremist al-Qaida network planned and executed the 9/11 plot from an Afghan sanctuary. Al-Qaida has been drastically curtailed, so far preventing it from attacking the United States again. The president lamented about $ 2 trillion in taxpayer dollars that was spent on fighting the war.
“What have we lost as a result in terms of opportunities? Biden asked.
Congressional committees, whose interest in the war has waned over the years, are expected to hold public hearings on what went wrong in the final months of the US withdrawal.
Minority Parliamentary Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., On Tuesday described the Biden administration’s handling of the evacuation as “possibly the biggest failure of the US government on a military stage of my life” and promised that Republicans would pressure the White House for answers.
Meanwhile, the Senate met briefly on Tuesday, chaired by Vice President Kamala Harris, to unanimously pass a bill that increases spending on temporary assistance to U.S. citizens and their relatives. charge returning from another country due to illness, war or other crisis. Biden quickly signed the legislation, which increased funding for the program from $ 1 million to $ 10 million.
A group of Republican lawmakers gathered on the floor of the House on Tuesday morning and participated in a minute’s silence for the 13 servicemen killed in the suicide bombing.
They also called for a House vote on legislation from Representative Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., Who, among other things, would require the administration to submit a report on the number of Americans remaining in Afghanistan as well as the number of Afghans who had applied for a category of visas reserved for persons employed by or on behalf of the US government.
GOP lawmakers objected to Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., Putting the House on adjournment. They then met for a press conference to denounce the administration.
For many American commanders and soldiers who served in Afghanistan, it was a day of mixed emotions.
“We are all in conflict with feelings of pain and anger, grief and sorrow, combined with pride and resilience,” said General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He commanded troops in Afghanistan earlier in his career. “But one thing I’m sure, for any soldier, sailor, airman, or marine and their families, your service mattered. It was not in vain.
Associated Press editors Robert Burns and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.