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Biden to Address Nation on Chaos in Afghanistan

August 16, 2021 by Dan McCue
President Joe Biden waves as he arrives at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

President Joe Biden cut short what was to have been a five-day stay at Camp David Monday and is slated to address the nation this afternoon on the stunning and still unfolding events in Afghanistan.

Biden is scheduled to speak in the East Room of the White House, at 3:45 p.m. today, a day after the Taliban seized the presidential palace in the Afghan capital of Kabul and scored battlefield victory after victory across the war-weary country.

In April, Biden ordered the Pentagon to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, a decision he said was made in lockstep with NATO coalition forces.

And as recently as last week, Biden told reporters at the White House that he had no regrets about his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

“Look, we spent over a trillion dollars over 20 years, we trained and equipped, with modern equipment, over 300,000 Afghan forces,” Biden said last Tuesday.

“Afghan leaders have to come together,” the president added.

That, of course, was before a Taliban insurgency shocked the world. As the Taliban rapidly advanced across the country in recent days, entire Afghan units surrendered after brief battles, and Kabul and several nearby provinces fell without a fight.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country as Western nations rushed to evacuate embassies amid a deteriorating security situation.

A day after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and the Taliban ensconced themselves in the presidential palace, thousands are said to be descending on Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport in a desperate and chaotic attempt to escape.

At least seven people died there, according to the Associated Press.

In order to ensure the safe departure of U.S. and allied personnel from Afghanistan, the United States has deployed 6,000 troops to keep the airport open and departing flights on schedule.

As of Monday night local time in Afghanistan, all U.S. diplomatic staff from the embassy in Kabul had been safely transported to the airport, the State Department said.

The State Department said that on Monday “and over the coming days, we will be transferring out of the country thousands of American citizens who have been residents in Afghanistan, as well as locally employed staff of the U.S. mission in Kabul and their families and other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals.”

It also said it would accelerate the evacuation of thousands of Afghans eligible for U.S. Special Immigrant Visas, nearly 2,000 of whom have already arrived in the United States over the past two weeks. 

For all categories, Afghans who have cleared security screening will continue to be transferred directly to the United States. 

“And we will find additional locations for those yet to be screened,” the department said.

In a statement from Camp David, Biden said he has been meeting with his national security team and had given them direction on how “to protect our interests and values” as the United States ends its military mission in Afghanistan.

The first step, Biden said, is to ensure an orderly and safe drawdown of U.S. personnel and other allied personnel and an orderly and safe evacuation of Afghans who helped our troops during our mission and those at special risk from the Taliban advance.

After that, the president said he has ordered the armed forces and the intelligence community to ensure the U.S. maintains the capability to address future terrorist threats from Afghanistan.

Biden said the White House has also conveyed to the Taliban representatives in Doha, via our Combatant Commander, that any action on their part on the ground in Afghanistan, that puts U.S. personnel or our mission at risk there, will be met with a swift and strong U.S. military response.

Finally, Biden said he’d placed Ambassador Tracey Jacobson in charge of a whole of government effort to process, transport, and relocate Afghan SIV applicants and other Afghan allies. 

“Our hearts go out to the brave Afghan men and women who are now at risk. We are working to evacuate thousands of those who helped our cause and their families,” the president said.

“That is what we are going to do. Now let me be clear about how we got here.

“The U.S. went to Afghanistan 20 years ago to defeat the forces that attacked the nation on Sept. 11, 2001. 

“Over the country’s 20 years at war in Afghanistan, the U.S. has invested nearly $1 trillion dollars, trained over 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police, equipped them with state-of-the-art military equipment, and maintained an air force as part of the longest war in U.S. history. 

“One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country. And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me,” Biden said.

“When I came to office, I inherited a deal cut by my predecessor — which he invited the Taliban to discuss at Camp David on the eve of 9/11 of 2019 — that left the Taliban in the strongest position militarily since 2001 and imposed a May 1, 2021 deadline on U.S. forces,” the president continued. “Shortly before he left office, he also drew U.S. forces down to a bare minimum of 2,500. Therefore, when I became president, I faced a choice — follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our forces and our allies’ forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict. I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan—two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth.”

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