The Oklahoman

‘The war in Afghanista­n is now over,’ Biden says

President touts airlift success; GOP slams exit

- Rebecca Morin and Maureen Groppe

WASHINGTON – A defiant President Joe Biden capped the U.S. withdrawal of Afghanista­n by aggressive­ly defending on Tuesday both his decision to end military operations and his handling of the evacuation that left some Americans behind.

“I was not going to extend this forever war and I was not extending a forever exit,” Biden said during remarks at the White House, a day after the U.S.’s chaotic withdrawal ended. “My fellow Americans, the war in Afghanista­n is now over.”

He blamed his predecesso­r for making a deal with the Taliban that Biden said made the militants the strongest

they’ve been since the U.S. invaded 20 years ago. He said that agreement between former President Donald Trump and the Taliban enabled them to control or contest nearly half the country by the time Biden took office.

Biden said that left his administra­tion with the choice of either following through on the commitment Trump made to leave the country or sending in tens of thousands more troops.

To critics who say the evacuation could have happened earlier and been more orderly, Biden said: “I respectful­ly disagree.”

“Everything had changed. My predecesso­r had made a deal with the Taliban,” he said. “The Taliban onslaught was coming.”

He also praised an evacuation effort that he called unpreceden­ted in history, and promised to continue helping the Afghan people while writing a new chapter in American military diplomacy.

“This decision about Afghanista­n is not just about Afghanista­n,” Biden said. “It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries.”

Saying the nation must learn from its mistakes, Biden said his top takeaways on Afghanista­n are that missions must have clear, achievable goals and must focus squarely on national security interests.

Moving on from a nation-building mindset and large-scale troop deployment­s, Biden said, “will make us stronger and more effective and safer at home.”

“I refused to continue a war that was no longer in the service of the vital national interest of our people,” he said.

Biden had hoped to spend August preparing for crunch time on his legislativ­e agenda. Congressio­nal Democrats must stay unified to pass more than $4 trillion in new spending on infrastruc­ture, social safety net programs and measures addressing climate change.

Instead, the administra­tion scrambled to complete the Afghanista­n withdrawal under a barrage of criticism from both Republican­s and Democrats.

Still, Biden began his remarks touting the “extraordin­ary success” of the airlift.

“No nation has done anything like it in all of history,” Biden said of the tens of thousands of Americans, Afghans and others removed in the last few weeks.

The United States military withdrew from Afghanista­n at 3:29 p.m. Monday, one minute before midnight in Kabul and before Biden’s Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline.

The United States’ war with Afghanista­n was the country’s longest, lasting roughly 20 years at a cost of $2 trillion by some estimates.

More than 2,400 troops were killed, including the 13 who died last week as they helped Afghans and Americans flee the Taliban, who swiftly took control of the nation in mid- August, sparking weeks of chaos and violence in Kabul.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said the loss of the 13 service members was “one of the worst things, if not the worst thing,” of Biden’s presidency.

“We owe them and their families a debt of gratitude we can never repay but we should never, ever, ever forget,” Biden said in the remarks delivered from the State Dining Room.

After about 6,000 Americans were evacuated since Aug. 14, an estimated 100 to 200 U.S. citizens remained when the last military flight departed.

“The president made the morally indefensib­le decision to leave Americans behind,” said Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligen­ce. “May history never forget this cowardice.”

With the 20th anniversar­y of 9/11 approachin­g, Americans are stuck in Afghanista­n and the Taliban have more weaponry than they did before the U.S. invaded, charged House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

“I believe there should be accountabi­lity for what I see is probably the biggest failure in American government on a military stage in my lifetime,” he said.

Biden said Americans in Afghanista­n were contacted 19 times since spring about leaving. Ninety percent of those wanting to get out did.

“For those remaining Americans, there is no deadline,” Biden said. “We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out.”

Local diplomatic efforts will be led from Doha, Qatar, as the U.S. no longer has a presence in Afghanista­n.

“The military mission is over,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday. “A new diplomatic mission has begun.”

The U.S. has said it and internatio­nal allies will continue to pressure the Taliban to make good on their promises, such as allowing Afghans to travel freely. Hours after the last U.S. military plane departed Afghanista­n, the Taliban declared victory and walked across the sole runway at Kabul’s airport as a symbolic gesture.

“The world should have learned their lesson, and this is the enjoyable moment of victory,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a livestream, according to The Associated Press.

With the military withdrawal complete, focus will likely turn to what went wrong with either the intelligen­ce assessment of how quickly the Taliban would take control or how the withdrawal was conducted – including whether any top officials should be fired.

“In order to move forward, we need answers and accountabi­lity regarding the cascading failures that led us to this moment,” Rep. Susan Wild, a Pennsylvan­ia Democrat, tweeted this month about what she called the “egregiousl­y mishandled” evacuation process. “Our troops deserve nothing less than a complete and unvarnishe­d truth.”

Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said the blame rests not with the Pentagon but with Biden, Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

 ?? EVAN ?? President Joe Biden is under heavy criticism, particular­ly from Republican­s, for his handling of the final evacuation from Afghanista­n.
EVAN President Joe Biden is under heavy criticism, particular­ly from Republican­s, for his handling of the final evacuation from Afghanista­n.

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