WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday described the evacuation from Afghanistan as an “extraordinary success” even though dozens of Americans and thousands of Afghan allies were left behind, and he defended his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the conflict.
“I was not going to extend this forever war,” he said from the White House.
Biden said his administration worked tirelessly to help Americans leave Afghanistan before the last U.S. troops departed this week, and he said diplomatic efforts would continue now that military operations have ended.
Biden’s remarks were part of an effort to turn the page on the worst foreign policy crisis of his tenure. The frantic withdrawal, which ended America’s longest war, has garnered bipartisan criticism of the president.
“I take responsibility for the decision,” Biden said, but he insisted that some level of chaos was unavoidable.
“The bottom line is there is no evacuation from the end of a war that you can run without the kinds of complexities, challenges, threats we faced,” Biden said. “None.”
The last U.S. soldiers left after nightfall the previous evening, ending two decades of war that began as retaliation for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by al-Qaida, the terrorist group based in Afghanistan. The Taliban, the fundamentalist group that U.S. forces drove from power only to see it regain control of the country in recent weeks, celebrated the American withdrawal by firing weapons in the air and scavenging for abandoned equipment at Kabul’s airport.
The departure of U.S. troops marked the final stage of an evacuation that flew more than 120,000 people, mostly Afghan allies, out of the country.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Monday that U.S. diplomats would pressure the Taliban to ensure safe passage even though the military mission has ended.
“Our commitment to them and to all Americans in Afghanistan and everywhere in the world continues,” he said.
Blinken said many of the remaining Americans were dual citizens with “deep roots and extended families” in Afghanistan, and they’re facing a “painful choice” about whether to leave.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, defended the withdrawal in an interview with ABC News on Tuesday morning. He said the president “made that hard call and it is a call he believes will ultimately serve the interests of our people, all of our citizens and our country.”
Former President Donald Trump made the original decision to pull out of Afghanistan, reaching a deal with the Taliban for U.S. forces to leave May 1.
After Biden took office, he pushed back the deadline to the end of the summer, but he remained committed to ending America’s longest war. He was the fourth president to oversee the conflict, and he has said he refused to pass the burden to a fifth.