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Biden hails 'extraordinary success' of Afghanistan withdrawal, outlines options for Americans & Afghan allies left behind in evacuation
How do you feel about Biden’s remarks on the end of the Afghanistan war and evacuation?
By Eric Revell, Countable News
What’s the story?
- President Joe Biden delivered remarks on Tuesday about the end of the war in Afghanistan and the conclusion of the military evacuation from the country ahead of his August 31st deadline, along with the next steps for getting the American civilians and Afghan allies stranded in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan out of the country. He did not take questions from the press at the conclusion of his remarks.
- The president took credit for the end of “the longest war in American history” along with “one of the biggest airlifts in history” and said the “extraordinary success of this mission was due to the incredible skill, bravery, and selfless courage of the United States military and our diplomats and intelligence professionals” in a “mission of mercy.” He also acknowledged the ISIS-K terror attack in which, “Twenty servicemembers were wounded in the service of this mission. Thirteen heroes gave their lives.”
- Biden didn’t address his past statements in which he insisted he would keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan until all Americans were evacuated, such as on August 19th when he said on ABC that “if there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay to get them all out.” He did, however, tout that only “about 100 to 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan with some intention to leave” and added:
“The bottom line: Ninety percent of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave.” (The White House’s transcript struck the 90% figure and added a 98% in reference to those Americans “who wanted to leave” being evacuated.)
- He also noted, “Since March, we reached out 19 times to Americans in Afghanistan, with multiple warnings and offers to help them leave Afghanistan.” However, Biden didn’t acknowledge that his administration’s public expressions of confidence in the Afghan government’s stability may have deterred those evacuees from leaving, such as the president’s statement at a July 8th press conference that the “likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”
- In his remarks Tuesday Biden said “for those remaining Americans, there is no deadline. We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out.” At present, no commercial or chartered flights are flying evacuees out of Afghanistan, but Biden said there are efforts “to reopen the airport, as well as overland routes” for people to leave and added, “I was not going to extend this forever, and I was not extending a forever exit.”
- The president said he and the international community expect the Taliban to allow “freedom of travel, freedom to leave.” In recent weeks, the Taliban delayed or blocked outright a number of U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, Afghan Special Immigrant Visa holders, and their family members attempting to reach the airport to evacuate. There are reports the Taliban is searching house-to-house for Afghans who worked with the U.S. and executing or “disappearing” those they find.
- The president said that he inherited a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban that had a deadline of May 1st from former President Donald Trump and framed the options available to him as being between a withdrawal or an escalation in troops along with a return to large-scale U.S. participation in ground combat. Biden’s framing omitted advice he received from General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that urged him to keep the roughly 2,500 troops in Afghanistan to ensure stability, per reports by the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. While Biden acknowledged that he extended the deadline to August 31st, he failed to note that he initially extended it to September 11th and moved it up to the end of August on July 8th.
- Given the number of Americans and Afghan allies left behind and the delayed start to the evacuation ― about 116,000 of the over 120,000 people evacuated were flown out since August 14th when the Taliban entered Kabul ― Biden also pushed back on assertions that the operation should’ve begun sooner:
“Now, some say we should have started mass evacuations sooner and “Couldn’t this have be done — have been done in a more orderly manner?” I respectfully disagree. Imagine if we had begun evacuations in June or July, bringing in thousands of American troops and evacuating more than 120,000 people in the middle of a civil war. There still would have been a rush to the airport, a breakdown in confidence and control of the government, and it still would have been a very difficult and dangerous mission.”
- The Biden administration did not begin the evacuation of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa holders until late July after all but 650 U.S. troops had been withdrawn, which ultimately resulted in troop levels having to be increased to roughly 5,800 in mid-August to ensure the security of Hamid Karzai International Airport amid the evacuation after the Taliban took Kabul. Biden did not address the early July closure of Bagram Air Base in his latest remarks.
- The president said Tuesday that “we were ready when the Afghan Security Forces ― after two decades of fighting for their country and losing thousands of their own ― did not hold on as long as anyone expected.” However, Biden said on July 8th that he intended to maintain the U.S. diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, but the Taliban’s sudden takeover resulted in the U.S. shuttering its Embassy in Kabul and shifting operations to the airport until the evacuation was completed (the Embassy’s operations have now been shifted to Doha, Qatar).
- During his remarks Tuesday, Biden claimed, “al Qaeda is decimated.” Earlier this year, Austin and Milley told Congress that it would take “possibly two years” for al Qaeda or ISIS to regenerate in Afghanistan after the departure of American forces. At a press briefing on August 20th, Pentagon Press Secretary acknowledged that al Qaeda already has a presence in Afghanistan but said that it isn’t significant enough to constitute a threat to the homeland. In the wake of the Taliban’s takeover, defense chiefs are going to reassess that estimate to see if it has advanced the timeline for al Qaeda or ISIS to reconstitute in Afghanistan.
(Photo Credit: Kabul Evacuation: U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Alexander Burnett, 82nd Airborne Public Affairs / Public Domain | Biden: White House photo by Adam Schultz via Flickr / Creative Commons)
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