Joe Biden says he 'stands squarely behind' decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan

16 August 2021, 21:13 | Updated: 17 August 2021, 16:58

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Joe Biden has said he "stands squarely behind" his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, but admitted things have become worse more quickly than expected.

Making his first address since the Taliban took control of the country, the US president said: "I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years I learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces."

However he said he "always promised the American people I would be straight with you" as he added: "The truth is this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated."

He blamed the situation on Afghanistan political leaders fleeing the country and said the Afghan military had collapsed "sometimes without trying to fight".

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"We gave them every chance to determine their own future," he said. "What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future."

He added: "If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending US military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision.

"American troops cannot and should not be fighting the war, and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves."

Mr Biden also mentioned a deal with the Taliban under which US troops were to leave by May 1, 2021 had been negotiated under Donald Trump's presidency.

Afghanistan erupted into disarray as the Taliban swept across the country in recent days, taking the capital Kabul at the weekend.

The US has been attempting to withdraw its forces, diplomats, allies and Afghans who worked with the coalition over the course of the 20-year war.

"How many more lives, American lives is it worth?" Mr Biden said, before adding: “I will not repeat the mistakes we've made in the past. The mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely in a conflict that is not in the national interest of the United States.”

He described the situation as "gut wrenching" for US veterans who fought there, adding: "It is for me as well. I've worked on these issues as long as anyone."

He also said the US did not act more quickly to evacuate Afghan civilians because "Afghans did not want to leave earlier".

And he warned the Taliban "if they attack our personnel, or disrupt our operation" the response of the US would be "swift and forceful".

"We will defend out people with devastating force if necessary," he said.

Mr Biden continued: "I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth president.

"I am deeply saddened by the facts we now face but I do not regret my decision to end America's warfighting in Afghanistan.

"I am the president of the US, the buck stops with me."

Mr Biden returned to the White House from the Camp David presidential retreat to speak from the East Room.

It was his first public remarks on the Afghanistan situation in nearly a week.

He said last week that he "doesn't regret" pulling US troops out of the country and insisted it was now the responsibility of the local government to defend the country.

However, since then the Taliban has seized power of the country with stunning speed.

Earlier on Monday, US military officials said chaos at Kabul airport left seven people dead, including some who fell from a departing US military transport jet.

Afghans rushed onto the tarmac of the airport on Monday as thousands tried to flee the country.

Some clung to the side of a US military plane before takeoff, in a widely shared video that captured the sense of desperation as the 20-year war comes to a chaotic end.

Another video showed the Afghans falling as the plane gained altitude over Kabul.