Biden says US gave Afghans every tool but ‘the will to fight for their future’

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WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden acknowledged that the Afghan government collapsed more quickly than he expected — and suggested that they had lacked the will to stand up to the Taliban.

“The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated,” Biden said in a much-awaited televised address from the White House, after several days of silence on the momentous developments.

Biden put the blame squarely with Afghan military and civilian leadership, saying, “We gave them every tool they could need. We provided close air support. What we could not provide is the will to fight for their future.”

He continued, “So what’s happened? Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.”

The US leader said the 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. We 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 emphasised.

“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. We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.”

“if Afghanistan is unable to mount any real resistance to the Taliban now, there is no chance that one year — one more year, five more years or 20 more years — that U.S. military boots on the ground would have made any difference,” Biden said.

The US president deplored the attitude of Afghanistan’s political leadership and doubled down his decision for the US forces’ pullout, saying, “It is wrong to order American troops to step up when Afghanistan’s own armed forces would not. The political leaders of Afghanistan were unable to come together for the good of their people, unable to negotiate for the future of their country when the chips were down.”

“They would never have done so while U.S. troops remained in Afghanistan bearing the brunt of the fighting for them,” he added.

Biden also passed scathing criticism on President Ashraf Ghani, who he said flat out ignored his advice on greater unity among leaders and the pursuit of a diplomatic solution.

“When I hosted President Ghani and Chairman Abdullah at the White House in June, and again when I spoke by phone to Ghani in July, we had very frank conversations. We talked about how Afghanistan should prepare to fight their civil wars after the U.S. military departed,” he said.

“We talked extensively about the need for Afghan leaders to unite politically. They failed to do any of that. I also urged them to engage in diplomacy, to seek a political settlement with the Taliban. This advice was flatly refused. Mr Ghani insisted the Afghan forces would fight, but obviously he was wrong.”

The US president also claimed that the Afghan government got in way of allowing the departure of Afghans who worked for the US for fear of triggering a crisis. “Will redouble efforts on getting them out,” he asserted.

The US leader again defended the US pullout from Afghanistan, saying he stood by the policy and that it was time to leave after 20 years of conflict.

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

As scenes of mayhem unfolded in the Afghan capital, Biden said he was “deeply saddened” by the turn of events — and promised to “speak out” on the rights of women now facing a return to Taliban rule.

But he was steadfast in insisting he did not regret pulling out America’s troops — despite a torrent of criticism of the chaotic end to two decades of US-led military intervention.

“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said. “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces.”

Biden reiterated however that the US national interest in Afghanistan was always principally about preventing terrorist attacks on the US homeland — and that America would continue to “act quickly and decisively” against any terror threat emanating from the country.

“The mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to be nation-building,” he said. “Our only vital national interest in Afghanistan remains today what it has always been: preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland.

And the US president issued a stark warning to the Taliban not to disrupt or threaten the evacuation of thousands of American diplomats and Afghan translators at the Kabul airport.

“We will defend our people with devastating force if necessary,” he said.

Biden warned the Taliban not to disrupt or threaten the evacuation of thousands of American diplomats and Afghan translators at the Kabul airport.

The response to any attack would be “swift and forceful,” Biden said.

“We will defend our people with devastating force if necessary,” he said.

President Biden again defended the US pullout of Afghanistan, saying he stood by the policy and that it was time to leave after 20 years of conflict.

“I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces,” he said.

He added that the US national interest in Afghanistan was always principally about preventing terrorist attacks from the war-torn nation on the US homeland.

“The mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to be nation-building,” he said.

Earlier, Secretary of State Antony Blinken nonetheless discussed Afghanistan with the foreign ministers of Russia and China, both of which have moved quickly to work with the Taliban.

Russia said Blinken and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed Moscow’s outreach to various Afghan political forces that is aimed at “helping ensure stability and public order.”

The two “agreed to continue consultations with the participation of China, Pakistan and other interested nations to establish the right conditions to begin an inclusive inter-Afghan dialogue under the new conditions,” a Russian foreign ministry statement said.

Both Russia and China stepped up contacts with the Taliban after the United States decided to withdraw from Afghanistan, ending a 20-year military involvement and setting off the swift crumbling of the government in Kabul.

Moscow, which in Soviet times spent a decade in a costly occupation of Afghanistan during which it battled Islamic guerrillas then backed by Washington, has kept its embassy open in Kabul and plans discussions with the Taliban.

Russia has said it sees the Taliban “restoring order,” while China said Monday it wanted “friendly and cooperative” relations” with Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Biden that Beijing sought an “open and inclusive political framework.”

“China stands ready to communicate with the United States to push for a soft landing of the Afghan issue, so that a new civil war or humanitarian disaster will be prevented in Afghanistan and the country will not relapse into a hotbed and shelter for terrorism,” Wang said, according to state news agency Xinhua.

US negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad regularly consulted Russia and China during his unsuccessful diplomacy to encourage a peaceful power-sharing agreement as the United States withdrew.

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