President Biden on Monday defended his decision to withdraw the U.S. military from Afghanistan, despite the swift Taliban takeover of the country and chaotic scenes unfolding in its capital city of Kabul, as people crowd the airport in an effort to flee.
“I am president of the United States of America, and the buck stops with me,” he said. “I am deeply saddened by the facts we now face, but I do not regret my decision.”
Speaking about the Taliban’s ousting of the U.S.-backed government, Biden acknowledged, “The truth is this did unfold more quickly than we anticipated,” but he added that he would not pass the war onto a fifth U.S. president or say that “a little more time” in Afghanistan “will make all the difference.”
Though Biden accepted responsibility for how the withdrawal is unfolding, he largely blamed the Afghan military for not standing and fighting, as well as Afghan political leaders for fleeing.
Biden said those facts reinforced his decision to leave and that a military solution to a secure and stable Afghanistan didn’t exist.
“There was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces,” Biden added. “That’s why we are still there.”
The president pointed out that going into Afghanistan was about getting those “who attacked us,” to make sure al-Qaida can’t use Afghanistan as a place to attack the U.S. again.
He noted that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was killed a decade ago and that the mission was “never supposed to be nation-building” or “creating a unified centralized democracy.”
The goal, he said, was “preventing a terrorist attack on the American homeland” and the mission needs to be “narrowly focused on counter-terrorism.”
That is something Biden has been saying for more than a decade, since when he was former President Barack Obama’s vice president.
Biden added that the U.S. needs to “face threats of today,” “not yesterday’s.”
The president, who had been following the crisis overseas from Camp David, returned to the White House on Monday afternoon to make the speech, as thousands of U.S. forces have been sent back in to secure the Kabul airport to finish evacuating Americans and others who helped the U.S. during the war.
Biden took no questions from reporters after his remarks, and plans to return to Camp David.
His remarks come as his top allies defend the administration in the face of increasing criticism — from both parties — over how the crisis has unfolded.
Republican lawmakers and some Democrats have criticized the administration’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
“This is President Biden’s Saigon moment,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation, referring to the chaotic departure from Vietnam in 1975. “And, unfortunately, it was very predictable. It seems like many in President Biden’s intelligence community got this devastatingly wrong.”
On Monday morning, national security adviser Jake Sullivan argued that the United States succeeded in its mission to hold those responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and that remaining in the country was not sustainable.
“Despite the fact that we spent 20 years and tens of billions of dollars to give the best equipment, the best training and the best capacity to the Afghan national security forces, we could not give them the will,” Sullivan said on NBC. “And they ultimately decided that they would not fight for Kabul and they would not fight for the country.”