'Just a fact' Afghanistan evacuation would be hard: Biden defends US withdrawal

22 August 2021, 22:02 | Updated: 23 August 2021, 08:55

Joe Biden said the evacuation from Afghanistan would be "hard and painful no matter when it started"
Joe Biden said the evacuation from Afghanistan would be "hard and painful no matter when it started". Picture: Alamy Live News

By Daisy Stephens

US President Joe Biden has said he is "convinced" he was right on the US military pullout from Afghanistan and that it was "just a fact" that the evacuation would be difficult.

Mr Biden said his "heart aches" for the thousands of people stranded outside the airport, but that evacuation would be "hard and painful no matter when it started".

"It would have been true if we had started a month ago, or a month from now," he said.

"There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss and heartbreaking images you see on the television.

"It's just a fact."

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He said around 28,000 people had been evacuated since August 14, a number that he called "extraordinary".

The US president said his "first priority" was to get American citizens out of the country as soon as possible, and that authorities were continuing to "reach out" to those that remained, but did not give details on future evacuation plans for "security reasons".

"Any American who wants to get home will get home," he promised.

He thanked "the men and women on the ground in Kabul" for their efforts, but admitted: "We have a long way to go and a lot could still go wrong."

Joe Biden has been heavily criticised for his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan.

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair called it "imbecilic", saying: "The world is now uncertain of where the West stands because it is so obvious that the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan in this way was driven not by grand strategy but by politics.

"We didn't need to do it. We chose to do it.

"We did it in obedience to an imbecilic political slogan about ending 'the forever wars', as if our engagement in 2021 was remotely comparable to our commitment 20 or even 10 years ago, in circumstances in which troop numbers had declined to a minimum and no allied soldier had lost their life in combat for 18 months."

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Mr Biden has also announced a deadline by which all US troops should be withdrawn from the country, saying he wants all evacuations to be complete by the end of August.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to hold a G7 meeting on Tuesday so leaders can discuss Afghanistan, which Joe Biden will attend virtually.

Photos and videos of Kabul Airport have been circulating on social media in the week since the Taliban took control of the capital.

Seven people are confirmed to have died in the chaos as desperate civilians try to escape the country, but one Nato official says the actual number is at least 20.

Read more: Tony Blair: Fall of Afghanistan could become threat to UK's security

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Videos showed terrified Afghans holding onto flight landing gear and mothers passing their children over the airport perimeter to Western troops, in the hope they would have a better life.

It is feared the Taliban will return to restricting women's rights and mount reprisals against those who worked with the Afghan republic and coalition forces.

The group insists it is more moderate than when it previously ruled Afghanistan, and there are hopes it has learned its lesson from when it was overthrown in 2001 and will not harbour terror groups looking to strike other countries.