President Biden offered a defiant defense on Monday of his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, blaming the swift collapse of the Afghan government and chaotic scenes at the Kabul airport on the refusal of the country’s military to stand and fight in the face of the Taliban advance.
Speaking to the American people from the East Room after returning briefly to the White House from Camp David, Mr. Biden said he had no regrets about his decision to end the longest war in United States history. But he lamented that two decades of support failed to turn the Afghan military into a force capable of securing its own country.
“We gave them every tool they could need. We paid their salaries. Provided for the maintenance of their airplanes,” Mr. Biden said. “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide was the will to fight for that future.”
Mr. Biden acknowledged that the Taliban victory had come much faster than the United States had expected and that the withdrawal was “hard and messy.” As the fourth president to preside over the war in Afghanistan, though, he said that “the buck stops with me.”
“I stand squarely behind my decision,” he said, adding that he would not “shrink from my share of responsibility for where we are today.”
He directed a question to critics of the withdrawal, asking, “How many more generations of America’s daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghans — Afghanistan’s civil war, when Afghan troops will not?”
Mr. Biden spoke after dramatic images showed a frantic scramble to evacuate the American Embassy in Kabul as Taliban fighters advanced, drawing grim comparisons to America’s retreat from Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. Footage of people clinging to a hulking U.S. military transport, even as it left the ground, quickly circulated around the world.
But in his speech, Mr. Biden spent far more time defending his decision to depart from Afghanistan than the chaotic way it was carried out.