US President Joe Biden warned the Taliban Monday not to disrupt or threaten the evacuation of thousands of American diplomats and Afghan translators at the Kabul airport.
The response to any attack would be “swift and forceful,” Biden said in a televised address from the White House. “We will defend our people with devastating force if necessary,” he said.
Striking a defiant tone, Biden said that he stands “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan and that the Afghan government’s collapse was quicker than anticipated.
Biden said he was faced with a choice between sticking to a previously negotiated agreement to withdraw US troops this year or sending thousands more service members back into Afghanistan for a “third decade” of war.
Biden said he will not repeat mistakes of the past and did not regret his decision to proceed with the withdrawal.
“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said in a televised address to the nation from the White House East Room. “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces.
“The truth is: this did unfold more quickly than we anticipated. So what’s happened? Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military gave up, sometimes without trying to fight,” Biden said.
Biden said he’d rather take the criticism over the fallout in Afghanistan than pass the decision to a fifth president. He said the decision to leave Afghanistan is “the right one for America.” He said keeping a US presence in Afghanistan was no longer a US national security interest.
Biden described the images coming out of Afghanistan — especially at the airport in Kabul, where Afghans descended in hopes of fleeing the country — as “gut-wrenching.” Video of Afghans clinging to a US Air Force plane as it prepared to take off had circulated widely on the Internet.
But he did not admit any US fault in how the drawdown was executed. He acknowledged that the Taliban takeover unfolded faster than had been anticipated.
About a month ago, Biden batted away the notion of a rapid Taliban takeover.
Biden said Monday the US will continue to support the Afghan people, push for regional diplomacy and speak out for the rights of Afghans.
Biden expressed confidence in his decision to proceed with the withdrawal and said he was prepared to take the heat.
He said he was “deeply saddened by the facts we now face, but I do not regret my decision,” adding that the US’ mission was never supposed to be “nation building.”
The US State Department on Monday declined to say if the US still recognized Ashraf Ghani as the president.
“So this is something that we are working on with the international community,” State Department spokesman Ned Price responded when asked who Washington recognized as the leader of Afghanistan.