Joe Biden defends handling of Afghanistan withdrawal
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The Taliban has now taken hold of Afghanistan, the Afghan President has fled, and civilians are being murdered by insurgents. As horrifying images tumble out of the country depicting the Taliban’s cruelty, the public are demanding answers from the US administration as to how things could have gone so wrong.
Joe Biden has tirelessly defended his decision to withdraw troops and said: “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces.”
He believes “it is wrong to order American troops to step up when Afghanistan’s own armed forces would not”.
The President’s comments sent shockwaves through the international community, and UK politicians were appalled that he appeared to blame Afghan troops for “not putting up a good enough fight”.
Tom Tugendhat, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said he was “extremely angry” at Mr Biden’s criticism of Afghan soldiers, calling those troops “incredibly brave” and saying the US withdrew “like a thief in the night” with no proper handover.
Leader of the Labour Party Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Biden’s approach to the crisis was a “catastrophic error of judgment”.
Liberal Democrat leader, Ed Davey, said Mr Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been left “frozen by events” and had been “negligent” and “unprepared”.
Both the UK and US administrations have admitted that the Taliban siege occurred far more rapidly than the West had expected or prepared for.
President Biden said he wanted to be “straight” with the American people in a national broadcast and explained: “The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.
“So, what’s happened?
“Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country.
“The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.
“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.
“We spent over a trillion dollars. We trained and equipped an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong.
“We gave them every tool they could need. We paid their salaries, provided for the maintenance of their air force.
“We gave them every chance to determine their own future, what we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.”
Vice President Kamala Harris has been widely criticised by American media for remaining quiet on the Afghanistan crisis until she spoke out on Monday, August 23, at a press conference.
When asked what she thinks has gone wrong in the military withdrawal, she said: “There’s going to be plenty of time to analyse what has happened… but right now we are singularly focused on evacuating American citizens, Afghans who worked with us, and Afghans who are vulnerable, including women and children.
“We cannot be, in any way, distracted from what must be our primary mission right now which is evacuating people from that region who deserve to be evacuated.”
She told CNN, shortly after Mr Biden ordered troops to continue their withdrawal in April, that she was the last one in the room before he made his final decision, and felt comfortable with the plan.
“The decision always rests with him,” she said, “but I have seen him over and over again make decisions based exactly on what he believes is right.”
As a Vice President who has become renowned for her loyalty, do you think the Afghanistan crisis would have been handled better in the hands of Ms Harris? Let us know what you think in the comments section.
In February 2020 the Trump administration forged an agreement with the Taliban that the US would withdraw all its forces and release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, and in exchange, the Taliban promised to sever its ties with al-Qaeda and end its attacks on American forces.
When Mr Biden came to power at the end of January 2021, Mr Trump had already withdrawn the majority of American soldiers from Afghanistan, as troops diminished from 15,500 to 2,500.
The deal Mr Trump had agreed to meant that Mr Biden had until May 1 to withdraw all troops, which he has now managed to push back to September 1.
Mr Biden explained that he faced the choice of either continuing with the agreed plan, or sending thousands of American soldiers back to Afghanistan to escalate violence with a Taliban army that was at its strongest since 2001.
The Biden administration came to the decision that it was no longer in America’s interests to continue the war, which ultimately led to their retreat.
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The President said: “We went to Afghanistan almost 20 years ago with clear goals, get those who attacked us on September 11, 2001, and make sure Al Qaeda could not use Afghanistan as a base from which to attack us again. We did that.
“We never gave up the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and we got him. That was a decade ago.
“Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building.
“It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralised democracy.
“Our only vital national interest in Afghanistan remains today what it has always been, preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland.”
He added a stark warning to international enemies that the US military would be focused on defending themselves from their modern-day foes.
He added: “Our true strategic competitors, China and Russia, would love nothing more than for the United States to continue to funnel billions of dollars in resources and attention into stabilising Afghanistan indefinitely.
“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, of doubling down on a civil war in a foreign country, of attempting to remake a country through the endless military deployments of U.S. forces.
“Those are the mistakes we cannot continue to repeat, because we have significant vital interests in the world that we cannot afford to ignore.”
Social commentators have argued that Mr Biden’s speech showed that US priorities have shifted and are now firmly grounded in defending their own citizens at home.
The President expressed the intent that the American military would no longer be a “force of good” to be used in less powerful countries’ conflicts and humanitarian crisis.
Senior Conservative and former Chief of Staff to Theresa May, Gavin Barwell, said it was “time to wake up and smell the coffee” that Democrats and Republicans no longer believe “the US should be the world’s policeman”.
He added: “The lesson for Europeans is clear. Whoever is president, the US is unlikely to offer the same support that it used to in parts of the world where its vital interests are not involved.
“Europeans are going to have to develop the capability to intervene without US support.
“That’s not going to be cheap, and the EU and Britain are going to have to work out how to cooperate on this because we face the same threats.”
Simon Clarke said Mr Biden’s comments on Afghanistan were “grotesque” and “an utter repudiation of the America so many of us have admired so deeply all our lives”.
He added that the USA under Mr Biden will no longer be “the champion of liberty and democracy and the guardian of what’s right in the world”.
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