WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden defended his decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan a day after the Taliban took control of the country.
Biden said he stood “squarely behind” his decision, but acknowledged the Taliban took control “more quickly than we anticipated.”
At least 6,000 troops have been sent to Kabul to protect the evacuation of Americans and their diplomatic allies, as well as some Afghan civilians. Biden said 2,000 Afghans and their families had moved to the U.S. since July, and the number could have been higher if more were willing to leave their country at the time.
The planned withdrawal of American forces turned deadly at Kabul’s airport Monday as thousands tried to flee. Senior U.S. military officials say the chaos at the airport left seven people dead, including some who fell from a departing American military transport jet.
Afghans rushed onto the tarmac of the capital’s airport Monday as thousands tried to flee after the Taliban seized power with stunning speed. Some clung to the side of a U.S. military plane before takeoff, in a widely shared video that captured the sense of desperation as America’s 20-year war comes to a chaotic end.
Afghans tried desperately to find space on departing military flights, with the U.S. resorting to firing warning shots and using helicopters to clear a path for transport aircraft.
Another video showed the Afghans falling as the plane gained altitude over Kabul.
“This is a damning image for the Biden administration, and underscores the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis on the ground,” House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said.
Biden was asked about the videos as he was leaving the podium after his speech, but did not answer. In his remarks, the president said the events unfolding now would have happened whenever the U.S. left.
“After 20 years I’ve learned the hard way there was never a good time to withdraw our forces,” Biden said. “That’s why we’re still there.”
The speed of the Afghan government’s collapse and the ensuing chaos posed the most serious test of Biden as commander in chief, and he was the subject of withering criticism from Republicans who said that he had failed.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called the scene in Afghanistan a “shameful failure of American leadership.”
Biden said he was breaking a cycle of 20 years of endless conflict protecting a country that would not defend itself in its own civil war. He also accused the Afghan government of giving up and fleeing the country in recent days.
“How many more generations of American’s daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghanistan’s civil war when Afghan troops will not?” he said. “How many more American lives? How many more headstones at Arlington National Cemetery? I’m clear on my answer. I will not repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past.”
Biden campaigned as a seasoned expert in international relations and has spent months downplaying the prospect of an ascendant Taliban while arguing that Americans of all political persuasions have tired of a 20-year war, a conflict that demonstrated the limits of money and military might to force a Western-style democracy on a society not ready or willing to embrace it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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