WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden defended his decision to pull troops from Afghanistan with a forceful speech on Tuesday in his first public remarks since the last U.S. troops left the region.
Speaking from the State Dining Room at the White House, Biden credited his administration’s evacuation efforts in Afghanistan as an “extraordinary success” and fought back against criticism from both parties.
“My fellow Americans, the war in Afghanistan is now over,” Biden said. “I’m the fourth president who has faced the issue of whether and when to end this war. When I was running for president, I made a commitment to the American people that I would end this war. Today I’ve honored that commitment.”
Biden defended his decision to withdraw troops, saying no matter when the withdrawal took place, there would have been challenges.
“Leaving Aug. 31st is not due to an arbitrary deadline. It was designed to save American lives,” Biden said. “The bottom line is that there is no evacuation from the end of a war that you can run without the kind of complexities, challenges, and threats that we faced. None.”
According to Brown University’s Costs of War project, over 47,000 civilians and 2,400 U.S. service members have been killed in the 20-year war.
“Now some say we should have started mass evacuations sooner,” Biden said. “Couldn’t it have have been done in a more orderly manner? I respectfully disagree.”
The President took responsibility for the actions that took place in Afghanistan over the past few weeks and acknowledged that the assumption that the Afghan government would hold was wrong.
“The assumption was that more than 300,000 Afghan national security forces that we trained over the past two decades and equipped would be a strong adversary in their civil wars with the Taliban,” he said. “That assumption… turned out not to be accurate.”
Biden placed some blame for the chaos on former President Donald Trump, who negogiated a deal with the Taliban before leaving office.
“The previous administration’s agreement said that if we stuck to the May 1st deadline that they had signed on to leave by, the Taliban wouldn’t attack any American forces,” Biden said. “But if we stayed all bets were off, so we were left with a simple decision. Either follow through on the commitment made by the last administration and leave Afghanistan or say we weren’t leaving and commit another tens of thousands more troops going back to war.”
“That was the choice,” he added. “The real choice between leaving or escalating.”
Administration officials have said the U.S. still plans to work to assist Americans and eligible Afghans who still want to leave Afghanistan.
“We are going to get every American citizen out. That has not changed,” White House press secetary Jen Psaki said at Tuesday’s press briefing.
The President said it was no longer in America’s interest to keep a military presence in Afghanistan and issued a warning to all terrorists who are thinking of threatening the United States.
“The United States will never rest. We will not forgive and we will not forget,” he said. “We will hunt you down to the ends of the Earth and you will pay the ultimate price.”