WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden reiterated that Afghan armed forces would have to defend their country and if they are not willing or capable enough to protect their land, the presence of US forces, whether for one or five more years, will make no difference.
“One more year, or five more years, of US military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country. And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me,” Biden said in a statement while doubling down his decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan despite the Taliban’s rapid advances.
Making a slight strategy somersault, he pledged to send more troops to evacuate civilians and warned the insurgents not to threaten that mission.
After consultations with his national security team, Biden said a total of “approximately 5,000” US soldiers — up from 3,000 — will now help organize evacuations and the end of the US mission after 20 years on the ground.
However, the president defended his stance, declaring that continued military presence in the region “would not have made a difference” after more than 20 years of conflict in the country.
“America went to Afghanistan 20 years ago to defeat the forces that attacked this country on September 11th. That mission resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden over a decade ago and the degradation of al Qaeda. And yet, 10 years later, when I became President, a small number of U.S. troops still remained on the ground, in harm’s way, with a looming deadline to withdraw them or go back to open combat,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House on Saturday afternoon.
“Over our country’s 20 years at war in Afghanistan, America has sent its finest young men and women, invested nearly $1 trillion dollars, trained over 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police, equipped them with state-of-the-art military equipment, and maintained their air force as part of the longest war in U.S. history.”
Dressing down the Aghanistan policy by his predecessor, Biden asserted, ” I was the fourth President to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan—two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth.”
He warned the Taliban that any action “that puts US personnel or our mission at risk there, will be met with a swift and strong US military response.”
Biden’s announcement came after Taliban insurgents captured the main northern holdout city of Mazar-i-Sharif and continued their rapid march towards the capital Kabul.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani pledged Saturday not to let the “imposed war on people cause more deaths,” and said consultations were taking place to try to help end the war, without offering details.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was part of the team that conferred with Biden, spoke by telephone with Ghani on Saturday, his spokesman said.
“They discussed the urgency of ongoing diplomatic and political efforts to reduce the violence,” spokesman Ned Price said.
Blinken was also expected to “engage with key regional stakeholders” on the escalating Taliban march on Kabul, Biden said.
Earlier, US Central Command said more American military personnel had arrived in Kabul to ensure the safe evacuation of American embassy employees and Afghan civilians who worked for US forces.
The Pentagon estimates it will need to evacuate about 30,000 people before it completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan by August 31, a deadline set by Biden.
Biden’s decision to pull troops out of Afghanistan has come under increased scrutiny given the implosion of the country’s armed forces, but he said he had no other choice — and laid some of the blame at the feet of Donald Trump.
“When I came to office, I inherited a deal cut by my predecessor… that left the Taliban in the strongest position militarily since 2001 and imposed a May 1, 2021, deadline on US forces,” Biden said.
“I faced a choice — follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our forces and our allies’ forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict,” he added.
“I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan — two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth,” Biden said.