US President Joe Biden on Tuesday said Afghanistan is not America’s problem and their mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building. ‘It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralized democracy,” he said after unrest and chaos gripped Afghanistan following Taliban takeover.
He said his national security team have been closely monitoring the situation on the ground in Afghanistan and moving quickly to execute the plans they had put in place to respond to every constituency, including — and contingency — including the rapid collapse everyone is seeing now.
He said the US went to Afghanistan almost 20 years ago with clear goals: get those who attacked us on September 11th, 2001, and make sure al Qaeda could not use Afghanistan as a base from which to attack again. “We did that,” he said.
The US severely degraded al Qaeda in Afghanistan. “We never gave up the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and we got him. That was a decade ago,” said the President asserting, “Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building. It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralized democracy.”
He said the US only vital national interest in Afghanistan remains today what it has always been: preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland.
“I’ve argued for many years that our mission should be narrowly focused on counterterrorism — not counterinsurgency or nation building, he said stressing why he opposed the surge when it was proposed in 2009 when he was Vice President.
“And that’s why, as President, I am adamant that we focus on the threats we face today in 2021 — not yesterday’s threats,” he said.
Today, the terrorist threat has metastasized well beyond Afghanistan: al Shabaab in Somalia, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Nusra in Syria, ISIS attempting to create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq and establishing affiliates in multiple countries in Africa and Asia.
These threats warrant our attention and our resources. “We conduct effective counterterrorism missions against terrorist groups in multiple countries where we don’t have a permanent military presence,” said the President adding if necessary, we will do the same in Afghanistan.
“We’ve developed counterterrorism over-the-horizon capability that will allow us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on any direct threats to the United States in the region and to act quickly and decisively if needed,” he said.
He said that when he took over he inherited a deal that President Trump negotiated with the Taliban. Under his agreement, U.S. forces would be out of Afghanistan by May 1, 2021 — just a little over three months after he took office.
US forces had already drawn down during the Trump administration from roughly 15,500 American forces to 2,500 troops in country, and the Taliban was at its strongest militarily since 2001.
“The choice I had to make, as your President, was either to follow through on that agreement or be prepared to go back to fighting the Taliban in the middle of the spring fighting season. There would have been no ceasefire after May 1,” he said.
There was no agreement protecting US forces after May 1. There was no status quo of stability without American casualties after May 1.
There was only the cold reality of either following through on the agreement to withdraw forces or escalating the conflict and sending thousands more American troops back into combat in Afghanistan, lurching into the third decade of conflict. “I stand squarely behind my decision,” he said.
He said that after 20 years he has learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces. “That’s why we were still there. We were clear-eyed about the risks. We planned for every contingency. But I always promised the American people that I will be straight with you,” he said.
He also accepted that this chaos did unfold more quickly than they had anticipated. So what’s happened?
Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight. “If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision,” he argued.
American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves. “We spent over a trillion dollars,” he said.
US trained and equipped an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong — incredibly well equipped — a force larger in size than the militaries of many of our NATO allies, he asserted.
“We gave them every tool they could need. We paid their salaries, provided for the maintenance of their air force — something the Taliban doesn’t have. Taliban does not have an air force. We provided close air support,” he said