President Joe Biden said on Monday that the mission of the United States in Afghanistan was never supposed to be nation-building as he defended his decision to pull out U.S. troops from the country.
Thousands of civilians desperate to flee Afghanistan thronged Kabul airport’s single runway on Monday after the Taliban seized the capital, prompting the United States to suspend evacuations as it came under mounting criticism at home.
During his address to the nation, Biden said he stood by his decision and accepted responsibility for it.
“It was never supposed to have been creating a unified, centralized democracy,” Biden said of the 20-year-long war.
“I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces. That’s why we’re still there. We were clear-eyed about the risk. We planned for every contingency,” he said. “The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.”
Biden took the Afghan government for precipitating its own swift downfall to the Taliban. He said the nation’s political leaders “gave up and fled the country,” and the Afghan military collapsed — “sometimes without even trying to fight.” This is after the United States spent over a trillion dollars over two decades to train and equip the Afghan military.
“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war, and dying in a war, that Afghan forces were not willing to fight for themselves,” the president said. “We gave [the Afghan military and its government] every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.”
Biden said the United States will continue to support the Afghan people and push for regional diplomacy — and speak out for the basic rights of all Afghanis now under threat from the Taliban. The U.S. will also dispatch 6,000 U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan to assist in securing the Kabul Airport and safely evacuate personnel and American citizens living there.
The Taliban would suffer severe military consequences if it attempts to attack American forces during this operation, Biden warned.
The U.S. will also expand refugee access to consider special immigration visas for those wishing to flee the Taliban and come to America.
“Once we have completed this mission, we will conclude our military withdrawal and end America’s longest war after 20 long years of bloodshed,” Biden said. “The events we’re seeing now are sadly proof that no amount of military force would ever deliver a stable united secure Afghanistan, which is known in history as the graveyard of empires.”
Biden is the fourth U.S. president to command the war in Afghanistan — and he said he would accept the responsibility of bringing it to a close.
“I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth president. I will not mislead the American people by claiming that just a little more time in Afghanistan would make all the difference, nor will I shrink from my share of the responsibility for where we are today, and how we must move forward from here,” the president said. “I am the president of the United States of America. The buck stops with me.”
Watch the entire address below (remarks begin at 45:00):