Biden says Afghans must decide their own future; The United States will depart on August 31
WASHINGTON, July 8 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden firmly defended his decision to withdraw US military forces from Afghanistan on Thursday, saying the Afghan people must decide their own future and that they will not lock up another generation of Americans in the 20 Years War.
Speaking in the East Room of the White House, Biden said the Afghan military has the ability to push back the Taliban, denying reports that US intelligence had planned a US-backed government collapse. in Kabul six months from now amid warnings of civil war.
Biden set a target date of August 31 for the final withdrawal of US forces, minus about 650 troops to provide security for the US embassy in Kabul, and said thousands of Afghan interpreters would be taken to safety.
Long-time skeptical of the 20-year military presence in Afghanistan, Biden said the United States had long reached its original justification for invading the country in 2001: rooting out al-Qaeda militants and preventing another attack. against the United States such as the one launched on September 11, 2001. The mastermind of this attack, Osama bin Laden, was killed by an American military team in neighboring Pakistan in 2011.
Biden was careful not to claim victory, saying “there is no mission accomplished.”
“We achieved these goals, which is why we went there. We did not go to Afghanistan to build a nation. And it is the right and responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how which he wants to lead his country, “he said.
According to an April Ipsos poll, a majority of Americans support Biden’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, but only 28% of adults agreed that the United States had achieved its goals in Afghanistan, and 43% agreed. said the US withdrawal is now helping Al Qaeda.
Speaking directly to critics of his decision, Biden asked, “How many more thousands of Americans, daughters and sons, were you willing to risk? How long would you let them stay?”
“I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan without a reasonable expectation of achieving a different result,” he said.
The speech represented Biden’s most detailed comments to date on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan under pressure from critics to provide more explanation for his decision to withdraw. Biden called on countries in the region to help reach an elusive political settlement between the warring parties. He said the Afghan government should seek an agreement with the Taliban to allow them to coexist peacefully.
“The likelihood of there being a unified government in Afghanistan controlling the whole country is highly unlikely,” he said.
Biden said the United States plans to move thousands of Afghan interpreters out of the country in August and it could safely apply for U.S. visas.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States was exploring various options for temporarily accommodating Afghan interpreters while awaiting their visas, including potentially military installations on U.S. soil as well as in third countries.
Kirby said the administration was looking to relocate interpreters from Afghanistan, but the preferred option was the chartered commercial plane.
Last weekend, the United States abandoned Bagram Air Base, the long-standing site of U.S. military operations in the country, ending the United States’ longest war. The Pentagon says the withdrawal of US forces is 90% complete.
Washington agreed to pull out in a deal negotiated last year under Biden’s Republican predecessor Donald Trump. Biden rejected military leaders who wanted to maintain a larger presence to help Afghan security forces and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a hotbed for extremist groups.
Taliban fighters on Thursday seized control of a district in western Afghanistan that includes a major border crossing with Iran, Afghan security officials said, as Islamist insurgents continued their rapid military advances in the country.
Last week, the Taliban invaded border areas in five countries – Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, China and Pakistan.
The commander of US troops in Afghanistan, General Austin Miller, warned last week that the country could be heading into a civil war.
But Biden said the Afghan troops far outnumber the Taliban, 300,000 to 75,000, and a Taliban takeover can be stopped.
“It’s not inevitable,” he said.
And he said there was no comparison between the Taliban forces and the North Vietnamese military that defeated the US-backed South Vietnamese in the 1970s and caused a hasty US withdrawal.
“There will be no circumstance where you will see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy in the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable,” he said.
US Representative Michael McCaul, ranked Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Biden had “only offered more empty promises and no detailed action plan.”
“The time for platitudes and blame is over. The American people deserve concrete answers and solutions – not false hopes,” McCaul said.
The U.S. intelligence community believes the Afghan military is weak and the Kabul government’s short-term prospects for survival are not good, U.S. government sources familiar with official assessments have said. Biden denied that US intelligence predicted a collapse of the Kabul government in six months.
Biden’s administration is also grappling with its fast-track visa plan for Afghans most at risk of attack by the Taliban. Rights groups are pushing to add up to 2,000 vulnerable women to the list.
Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reports by Trevor Hunnicutt, Jonathan Landay, Idrees Ali and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Heather Timmons, Alistair Bell and Daniel Wallis
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