Biden draws new red line for U.S. military action in Afghanistan

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WASHINGTON — In a resolute and, at times, defensive speech explaining the swift fall of U.S.-trained security forces in Afghanistan to the Taliban and his decision to pull troops from that country, President Biden also drew a red line Monday for the use of future military force.

“If they attack our personnel, the U.S. presence will be swift and the response will be forceful. We will defend our people with devastating force, if necessary,” Biden said in a speech delivered from the White House that followed a weekend during which Afghan security forces melted away and Taliban fighters seized control of the country.

Condemning Afghanistan’s military for its apparent refusal to stand and fight the Taliban, Biden said a continued U.S. military presence there was not in the country’s interests.

Facing withering criticism from Washington Democrats and Republicans alike, he acknowledged that the destabilization in Afghanistan occurred “more quickly than expected,” but he went only so far in accepting blame.

"I am the president of the United States of America, and the buck stops with me," Biden said.

Instead, he set blame squarely on the shoulders of the Afghans.

"So what's happened? Afghanistan's political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight,” he said, adding, “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.”

Over the weekend, Biden made no public appearances or on-camera statements as news broke that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had fled the country while the thousands of Western-trained security forces gave way to Taliban fighters. On Saturday, Biden authorized sending additional troops to Afghanistan to assist the “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." By Sunday, the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Kabul, was fully evacuated.

President Joe Biden speaks about Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP)
President Biden speaks about Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House on Monday. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Senior administration officials admitted to being shocked at the speed with which Taliban forces seized control of the country and its capital. National security adviser Jake Sullivan told NBC News on Sunday that Biden faced “bad choices.”

“The choice he made … to ultimately ask the Afghans to step up and fight for themselves — it is heartbreaking to see what is happening in Kabul, but the president had to make the best possible choice he could, and he stands by that decision,” Sullivan said. He explained that the White House believed that Kabul’s fall to the Taliban was “not inevitable.”

Gen. David Petraeus, the former CIA director under President Barack Obama who oversaw military efforts in Afghanistan and served in Iraq, told NBC News on Monday that the scene in Afghanistan is “catastrophic.”

“It's also heartbreaking. It's tragic,” Petraeus said. “And I do think there were alternative approaches, options, that we in fact should have considered.”

With scenes of Afghan desperation playing out on American televisions and on social media, Biden returned to the White House on Monday morning to make his address from Washington.

“I am deeply saddened by the facts we now face, but I do not regret my decision to end America's war fighting in Afghanistan,” he concluded before returning to Camp David.


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