President Biden spoke from the East Room on Monday afternoon to address the situation in Afghanistan, saying that the national security team is working to "respond to every contingency, including the rapid collapse we're seeing now."
He wanted to "remind everyone how we got here," saying that we "went to Afghanistan almost 20 years ago with clear goals," the undermine Al Qaeda's terrorist activities, and to hunt down Osama bin Laden, and "we got him," he said.
Biden said the goal was not "nation building," but was in "preventing a terrorist attack" on US land. He said he "opposed" Obama's surge in 2009, and that he's "adamant that we focus on the threats we face today."
Biden spoke to terrorist threats globally, across the Middle East, Asia, and in North Africa. He said that we must "keep our eyes" firmly fixed on the threats we face.
"When I came into office, I inherited a deal that President Trump negotiated with the Taliban. Under his agreement, US forces would be out of Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. Just a little over three months after I took office," Biden said.
Under the Trump administration, he said, US forces had already significantly drawn down from about 15,500 US troops to 2,500 "troops in country."
"The Taliban," he said, "was at its strongest military since 2001. The choice I had to make as your president was either to follow through on that agreement, or be prepared to go back to fighting the Taliban in the middle of the spring fighting season. There would have been no cease-fire after May 1."
Biden said "there was no agreement protecting our forces after May 1," as a reason not to withdraw troops by the agreed-to date.
He said the only options were to "to withdraw our forces the agreement or escalating the conflict, sending thousands more American troops back into combat in Afghanistan. Lurching into the third decade of conflict."
"I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years I've learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces. That's why we're still there. We were clear-eyed about the risks, we planned for every contingency," he said, repeating House Speaker Pelosi's talking points on the matter.
"But," he said, "I always promised the American people that I would be straight with you. The truth is: This did unfold more quickly that we had anticipated."
He said the Afghani political leaders "gave up and fled the country," and the Afghan military "collapsed." This, he said, showed that "any US military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision."
Biden said that American troops "cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves."
The US spent more than a trillion dollars, and the training of the Afghan military force, fully equipped with US military gear, was larger than the standing armies of many NATO allies, he said.
"We gave them every tool they could need, we paid their salaries, provided for the maintenance of their air force, something the Taliban doesn't have, the Taliban doesn't have an air force. We provide close-air support. We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We could not provide them with the will to fight for that future," he said.
"If Afghanistan is unable to mount any real resistance to the Taliban now, there is no chance that" more time spent by the US military "would have made any difference," he said.
Biden said that it would be wrong to order US troops to step up when Afghan forces were not. In short, he slammed the US-trained, US-equipped troops left behind for not wanting to fight for their own country.
Enemies of the US, Biden said, including Russia and China, "would like nothing more" than for the US to be sidelined by endless fighting in Afghanistan. Biden said he spoke to the now deposed President Ghani, how left the nation on Sunday, about what was in store for Afghanistan.
Biden said that Ghani didn't do anything he recommended, saying "this advice was flatly refused," and slammed Ghani for believing that his forces would fight.
Biden said that those who would have the US stay and fight should answer the question as to how many daughters and sons of the US should go to "fight Afghanistan's civil war."
The president said the "conflict was not in the national interests of the United States," and that the US could not remake a country militarily, and that this mistake cannot be repeated or afforded further.
He spoke to the veterans, diplomats, and humanitarian workers who watched their efforts fall apart, as well as to the families of those who lost loved ones to the conflict. He said it's time to focus on "what is possible," saying that diplomacy and humanitarian aid would be available to the people of Afghanistan, courtesy of the United States.
Biden said the US would speak out for the rights of women and girls, "just as we speak out all over the world," and that "human rights would be the center of our foreign policy." The US will use diplomacy, "economic tools," and international influence to get their message across.
As to the disastrous withdrawal, Biden said he was asked to send 6,000 troops to the country to get Americans out and aid the withdrawal. By his own account, that's more than double the number of troops that were set to leave Afghanistan.
These troops were meant to evacuate Americans, and Afghans who had worked with the US, "to safety outside of Afghanistan."
The troops, he said, "were working to secure the airfield." These troops took over air traffic control, and Biden said the embassy was safely closed down and diplomats were safely transported, that the diplomatic presence was safe at the airport.
"Operation Allies Refugee," he said, would handle the further removal of Afghans and civilians who need the protection of the US.
As to why refugees and Afghan civilians who collaborated with the US were not evacuated sooner, he said "part of the answer is some of the Afghans did not want to leave earlier, still hopeful for their country."
He said that Ghani and the Afghan government "discouraged" the US from "organizing a mass exodus for fear of triggering," a lack of confidence.
Biden warned the Taliban not to attack US forces, saying that "devastating force" would be deployed "if necessary."
"Once we complete this mission," he said, "we will conclude our military withdrawal in America's longest war after 20 long years of bloodshed." He noted that Afghanistan is known as "the graveyard of empires," and that there was no amount of force or time that would have delivered a successful mission for the US.
President Biden took no questions, and pool reporters said he was going back to Camp David.
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