WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden said on Thursday that the US military operation in Afghanistan will end on August 31, delivering a passionate argument for emerging from the nearly 20-year war without sacrificing more American lives, even if he bluntly recognized that there would be no “mission accomplished” time to celebrate.
Biden objected to the idea that the US mission had failed, but also noted that the government remains unlikely to control all of Afghanistan after the US leaves. He urged the Afghan government and the Taliban, who he said remain as formidable as before the war began, to reach a peace deal.
“We did not go to Afghanistan to build a nation,” Biden said in a speech in the East Room of the White House. “Afghan leaders must come together and move towards a future. “
In recent days, the administration has sought to portray the end of the conflict as a decision taken by Biden after concluding that it was an “impossible war to win” and one which “has no military solution” . On Thursday, he amplified the rationale for his decision even as the Taliban are advancing rapidly in large parts of the country.
“How many more, how many thousands of American daughters and sons are you willing to risk? Biden told those calling on the United States to extend the military operation. He added, “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan without any reasonable expectation of a different outcome.
The new withdrawal date comes after the administration of former President Donald Trump negotiated a deal with the Taliban to end the US military mission by May 1. Biden after taking office, announced that US troops would be out by the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attack, which Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden plotted from Afghanistan, where he had been refugee by the Taliban.
With the rapid withdrawal of allied forces from the United States and NATO over the past week, there was growing speculation that American combat operations were already effectively over. But by setting Aug. 31 as the withdrawal date, the administration has nodded to the reality that the long war is in its final stages, while giving itself some cushion to deal with the outstanding issues.
The administration has yet to complete talks with Turkey on an arrangement to maintain security at Kabul airport and is still working out the details of the potential evacuation of thousands of Afghans who have assisted the US military operation.
Biden said that extending the US military engagement, given that Trump had already agreed to withdraw US troops, would have led to an escalation of attacks on US troops and NATO allies.
“The Taliban have reportedly started targeting our forces again,” Biden said. “The status quo was not an option. Staying meant American troops suffered losses. American men and women. Back in the middle of the civil war. And we would run the risk of having to send more troops back to Afghanistan to defend our remaining troops. “
The president added that there is no “mission accomplished” moment as the American war draws to a close.
“The mission has been accomplished as far as we have had Osama bin Laden and terrorism does not emanate from this part of the world,” he said. US forces killed Bin Laden in 2011.
US forces this week evacuated Bagram Airfield – the US epicenter of the conflict to oust the Taliban and track down the al-Qaida perpetrators of the 2001 terrorist attacks that sparked the war.
The remaining US troops are now concentrated in Kabul, the capital. The Pentagon has said that the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, is expected to complete his tour of duty this month as final arrangements are made for a scaled-down U.S. military mission.
Biden, responding to reporters’ questions after his remarks Thursday, said Kabul falling to the Taliban would not be an acceptable outcome. The president also rejected the idea that such a scenario was certain.
“Do I trust the Taliban? No, ”Biden said. “But I have confidence in the capacity of the Afghan army, which is better trained, better equipped and more competent in terms of warfare.”
To be sure, the West hopes that the Taliban’s gains will be confined mainly to rural areas, with the Afghan government and its allies retaining control of the towns where large parts of the Afghan population reside. And while the Taliban remain a major power in Afghanistan, government supporters hope the Afghans will determine the role of the Taliban in the post-American power structure in Afghanistan more through political means than military means, in part thanks to inducements from the United States. international legitimacy, aid and other support. .
Asked by a reporter whether widespread corruption in the Afghan government contributed to the failure to achieve the kind of stability his predecessors and US military commanders envisioned, Biden didn’t exactly dismiss the idea. “The mission has not yet failed. “
Biden continues to be pressured by congressional lawmakers to provide more details on how he plans to go about helping the thousands of Afghans who have helped the U.S. military as translators, drivers and in other jobs. Many fear they will be targeted by the Taliban once the US withdrawal is over.
The White House said the administration has identified U.S. facilities outside of the continental United States, as well as third countries, where evacuated Afghans would potentially remain while their visa applications are processed. Biden added that 2,500 Afghans have been granted special immigrant visas since taking office in January.
John Kirby, chief Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday that the US military is considering several overseas bases around the world as possible temporary locations for Afghans awaiting visas. So far, he said, the number of those who have decided to leave Afghanistan is not so high that they cannot be treated with a range of facilities.
“Our message to these women and men is clear,” Biden said. “There is a home for you in the United States if you want it. We will be by your side, just as you have stood by our side.
Biden noted that as a senator he was skeptical of what the United States could accomplish in Afghanistan and had advocated for a more narrowly tailored mission. He was somewhat opaque when he answered whether the cost of the war was worth it, but argued that US objectives had long been achieved.
“We went for two reasons: one, to bring Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, as I said at the time,” Biden said. “The second reason was to eliminate Al-Qaida’s ability to deal with more attacks against the United States from this territory. We have achieved both of these goals. Period.
“That’s why I think it’s the right decision and is frankly long overdue. “
Associated Press writer Ellen Knickmeyer in Oklahoma City and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed reporting.
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