Biden defends withdrawal from Afghanistan: ‘I was not extending a forever exit’

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNN) — President Joe Biden spoke to the nation Tuesday on the end of the war in Afghanistan, defending the chaotic withdrawal from Kabul a day after the last American military planes left the country, concluding the nation’s longest war nearly 20 years after it began.

Biden, in defending a decision that has drawn scrutiny for its execution, said the real decision in Afghanistan was “between leaving and escalating,” framing his choice to withdraw troops as the only option aside from surging more forces to the country.

“I was not going to extend this forever war, and I was not extending a forever exit,” he said.

The US withdrawal was rocked by the Taliban’s unexpectedly swift takeover of Afghanistan’s capital. Snapshots of people trying to flee the Taliban by congregating outside the gates of Kabul’s airport, along with images from inside American military planes filled with evacuees, were broadcast around the world. More than 150 Americans struggling to get to the airport were airlifted by helicopter off the roof of a nearby hotel.

Thirteen US service members were killed in a terrorist attack last week outside the airport’s gates and more than 170 other people died in the suicide blast. And on Sunday, American forces carried out a deadly defensive strike targeting a suspected ISIS-K suicide bomber who posed an “imminent” threat to the airport.

The President contended that the US military was prepared to deal with all those events, even though he himself has admitted that the US was caught off-guard by the quick collapse of the Afghan army.

“This is the way the mission was designed. It was designed to operate under severe stress and attack, and that’s what it did,” Biden said.

A day after leaving Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Central Command Commander Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie to speak in the hours after the final military plane left the country, Biden addressed the American people about his decision not to extend the US military presence in Afghanistan past the end of the month. Earlier on Tuesday morning, the President first met with his national security team for a briefing on Afghanistan in the Situation Room.

Biden paid tribute to the service members who were deployed to handle the withdrawal, including the 13 who died in the terrorist strike and praised their comrades who finished the mission.

“For weeks they risked their lives to get American citizens, Afghans who helped us, citizens of our allies and partners and others on board planes and out of the country. And they did it facing the crush of enormous crowds seeking to leave the country,” Biden said.

The President, who faces a political reckoning for the US’ handling of the withdrawal, said in a statement Monday that “it was the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs and of all of our commanders on the ground to end our airlift mission as planned.” He’s also argued that he thought chaos in the country was inevitable when US troops departed.

“Their view was that ending our military mission was the best way to protect the lives of our troops, and secure the prospects of civilian departures for those who want to leave Afghanistan in the weeks and months ahead,” Biden added.

He thanked the final US forces serving in the country for executing the “dangerous retrograde from Afghanistan as scheduled,” with no further loss of American lives.

While the President delivered an address to announce the initiation of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan earlier this year, the Biden administration left Monday’s full withdrawal announcement to McKenzie.

The CENTCOM commander on Monday acknowledged that the US military “did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out.”

“But I think if we’d stayed another 10 days, we wouldn’t have gotten everybody out that we wanted to get out and there still would’ve been people who would’ve been disappointed with that. It’s a tough situation,” he added.

As of Monday, more than 122,000 people had been airlifted from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul since July, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters, including 5,400 Americans.

(WWAY) — Today, Congressman David Rouzer (R-NC) joined 158 cosponsors in introducing legislation to posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to the 13 U.S. military servicemembers who were killed in Afghanistan last week.

The legislation will award the Congressional Gold Medal to Staff Sgt. Darin Taylor Hoover, Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, Sgt. Nicole Gee, Cpl. Hunter Lopez, Cpl. Daegan Page, Cpl. Humberto Sanchez, Cpl. David Lee Espinoza, Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz, Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola, Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, Hospitalman Maxton Soviak and Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss.

“I am proud to join Congresswoman Lisa McClain and many of my colleagues in introducing legislation to posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to the 13 U.S. servicemembers who lost their lives in Afghanistan last week,” said Rep. Rouzer. “Even in the face of great danger, these brave troops carried out their mission by helping Americans and many Afghan allies and their families get out of the country. Their selflessness and heroism shall not be forgotten.”

Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) issued the following statement:

“President Biden broke his word to American citizens and our allies. Plain and simple. Two weeks ago, the President pledged to get any American out of Afghanistan who wanted to leave. Today, he brazenly defended his decision to pull out of the country entirely, leaving an undetermined number of U.S. citizens behind at the mercy of the Taliban.

“President Biden bears responsibility for this disastrous withdrawal, which has handed a victory to our enemies, hampered our intelligence efforts, and opened the door to a potential resurgence of terrorist activities.

“In the chaos, we cannot forget that 13 brave servicemen and women were killed in the Kabul terrorist attack last week. We will not forget their names, their stories, or their service to our country. Our prayers are with their families as we mourn their loss.”

Also, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) issued the following statement:

“History will record President Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan as a stain on America’s honor and credibility both at home and abroad. It is unconscionable that the world’s most powerful country abandoned some of our own citizens and green card holders, and betrayed thousands of our Afghan allies we had promised refuge, leaving them to certain death at the hands of the Taliban.

“It should have never been this way, and the buck stops with President Biden. The buck stops with him not only because he is the president, but because he decided to overrule military leaders by setting an arbitrary and politically motivated withdrawal date. He decided to appease the Taliban, put them in charge of security in Kabul, and allow them to gain access to our weapons and equipment. He decided to handcuff our military who wanted to do more while allowing the State Department—under the incompetent management of Secretary Blinken—to run a chaotic bureaucratic process that became a nightmare for Americans and Afghans desperately seeking to get out.

“President Biden has repeatedly misled the American people and pointed fingers at everyone else to avoid taking any responsibility for his own failed decisions. President Biden promised that we would not leave until every American was evacuated, a promise he shamefully broke in order to keep the promises he made to the Taliban. When the American people now hear the phrase ‘those who wanted to leave’ coming from administration officials, they need to know that some did not leave because the American government only gave them the option to evacuate if they left their loved ones behind in Afghanistan.

“These last several weeks have been tremendously difficult for our servicemembers, veterans, and Gold Star families. It’s especially painful for veterans who are worried sick about what will happen to their Afghan friends they served alongside now that America has left. The brave Americans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom did everything we asked them to do and more, and we can never forget their heroic service and sacrifice.

“It is our government leaders who are responsible for the disastrous withdrawal and the stain on America’s honor and credibility. Their failures have made it likely that Afghanistan will once again become a safe haven for al-Qaeda and other terror networks.

“Congress now has a duty to investigate what went wrong, why it went wrong, and hold the administration accountable for failing our citizens and allies.”

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