Aug. 16 (UPI) — President Joe Biden on Monday defended his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, saying the quick Taliban takeover as U.S. troops departed proved how the 20-year effort to build an Afghan fighting force had failed.
“I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces,” Biden said in remarks delivered from the East Room of the White House.
Returning to Washington after spending the weekend at the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland, Biden delivered his first public comments since the Taliban completed their takeover Sunday, only two weeks after their offensive began.
Biden’s remarks came amid mounting criticism of how his administration has handled the quickly deteriorating situation in the country, which descended into chaos as the militant group captured Kabul and touched off mass evacuations across the city as civilians and government officials tried to find a way out of the country.
The president admitted that “this did unfold more quickly than we anticipated,” but reiterated his core belief that ending American involvement was the right and responsible thing to do.
Afghan leaders, Biden said, gave up and fled the country while the U.S.-backed military melted away. He said he had received strong reassurances from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that his security forces would fight the Taliban — but they did not.
“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” Biden said. “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We could not provide them with the will to fight for that future.”
“I know my decision will be criticized, but i would rather take all that criticism than pass this decision on to” another president, he said.
The U.S. mission in Afghanistan was “never supposed to be nation building,” but rather to merely degrade the Taliban’s ability to aid in launching terrorist attacks, he asserted.
“I am president of the United States and the buck stops with me,” Biden said. “I am deeply saddened by the facts we now face, but I do not regret my decision to end America’s war-fighting in Afghanistan and maintain a laser-focus on our counter-terrorism mission there and in other parts of the world.”
Months ago, the president set Aug. 31 as the deadline to have U.S. forces out of Afghanistan. Recently, experts and officials have been caught by surprise by how quickly the Taliban were capturing territory on their way to Kabul.
Former President Donald Trump began steps to withdraw forces from Afghanistan early last year and later said he wanted U.S. troops home by Christmas 2020.
Biden continued to push for peace talks including the Taliban and initially said troops would be gone by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that prompted the war in Afghanistan.
In recent weeks, the Taliban became more aggressive in its military plans and took numerous provincial capitals while diplomatic negotiations stalled.