As the Taliban rapidly establishes its rule over Afghanistan, President Joe Biden has recommitted his administration to withdrawing U.S. troops.
Biden doubled down on his withdrawal plan at a White House press conference on Aug. 16. He spoke for less than 20 minutes and didn’t take questions from reporters, delivering instead a similar message to what he’s said since taking office in January.
“How many more generations of America’s daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghanistan’s civil war when Afghan troops will not? How many more lives, American lives, is it worth?” Biden said. “I’m clear on my answer: I will not repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past—the mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely.”
Biden did concede that the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan has collapsed more quickly than expected, backtracking on statements he made last month about having “trust” in the Afghan military. Even though the Afghan military outnumbered Taliban fighters roughly 300,000 to 75,000, the Taliban has stunned most national security experts with the speed with which it’s reconquering the country.
Biden attributed the Taliban’s quick takeover to a lack of fighting spirit among Afghan government forces.
“We trained and equipped an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong, incredibly well-equipped—a force larger in size than many of our NATO allies,” he said. “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We could not provide them with the will to fight for that future.”
The U.S. president concluded his brief remarks by articulating his administration’s plan for the final roughly two weeks of the war. Biden has authorized some 6,000 additional combat troops to assist with the evacuation, and he promised that the retaliation will be swift and deadly if the Taliban attacks U.S. or allied personnel during the process.
“We will defend our people with devastating force if necessary. Our current military mission will be short in time, limited in scope, and focused on its objectives—to get our people and our allies as safely, as quickly as possible,” he said. “And once we have completed this mission, we will conclude our military withdrawal.
“We will end America’s longest war after 20 long years of bloodshed.”
Biden’s withdrawal has been roundly criticized from both sides of the political aisle. Former President Donald Trump said on Aug. 14 that the Taliban “no longer has fear or respect for America,” while at least three Democratic representatives serving on the House Foreign Affairs or Armed Services committees have released statements of criticism.
“There’s no way to hide it. The situation in Afghanistan is another shame on this admin,” Rep. Vincente Gonzalez (D-Texas) wrote on Twitter on Aug. 15. “Withdrawal was never going to be easy, but it didn’t need to come to this. The US must do everything in its power to help our partners & allies to safety & protect our national security.”
However, some former Afghanistan combat veterans have expressed support for Biden sticking to his guns. Defense Priorities, a Washington think tank that generally advocates for a restrained foreign policy, held a press conference on Aug. 16 featuring two such veterans.
“President Biden is right—continuing to commit U.S. troops in the middle of someone else’s civil war is simply not in the U.S. national interest. Despite spending nearly $90 billion building an Afghan security force, the Taliban were able to capture Kabul without firing a shot. To expect one more year to accomplish what 20 years have not is naïve,” said retired Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, a senior fellow with Defense Priorities.
“The U.S. should continue expediting the departure of U.S. citizens and ensure Afghans who helped the U.S. military are taken care of,” said Davis. “However regrettable the scenes in Kabul are today, ending the failed 20-year nation-building campaign remains the only logical course.”