Joe Biden on Afghanistan: former ‘nation building’ stance, US troops withdrawal and Taliban comments explained

In a statement from President Joe Biden, he said that things in Afghanistan had ‘unfolded quicker than anticipated’

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As the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan amid the withdrawal of US troops, US President Joe Biden said in a recent address that the mission in Afghanistan was “never supposed to have been nation building”.

Over the course of the past 20 years, Biden as a Senator, Vice President, and now President, has spoken at length about the US involvement in Afghanistan, and what the focus of the mission should be.

This is what you need to know.

What has Biden said about Afghanistan in the past?

Biden has spoken about the U.S presence in Afghanistan over the course of the past 20 years.

In 2001, Senator Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said: “After al-Qaeda and the Taliban fall… when we “drain the swamp”, as the President says, the medium-term goal is to roll up all al-Qaeda cells around the world.

“Then, with the help of other nations and possibly the ultimate sanction of the United Nations our hope is that we will see a relatively stable government in Afghanistan, one that does not harbour terrorists, is acceptable to the major players in the region, represents the ethnic make up of the country and provides the foundation for future reconstruction of that country.’

In 2003, he spoke before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and said: “In some parts of the administration, nation building is still a dirty phrase, but the alternative to nation building is chaos, a chaos that churns out blood thirsty warlords, drug traffickers and terrorists.”

Recently, house Republicans resurfaced a video clip of now President Biden dismissing concerns that the Taliban would retake control of Afghanistan as American troops withdrew from the country.

In the clip, it showed Biden during a 8 July press conference in which he said that a Taliban takeover was not “inevitable”.

He added that the U.S backed Afghan government has “300,000 well-equipped” troops, and that they were “as well-equipped as any army in the world”.

He added: “Against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable.”

Biden also pushed back against the claim that U.S intelligence officials had predicted that the Afghan government would likely fall apart.

He said: “That is not true. They did not - they didn’t - did not reach that conclusion.”

What did Biden say in his White House statement?

On Saturday 14 August, Biden released a statement in the White House briefing room regarding the situation in Afghanistan.

He opened the statement saying that over the past few days, he had “been in close contact with [the] national security team to give them direction on how to protect our interests and values as we end our military mission in Afghanistan”.

His statement, in full, said: “First, based on the recommendations of our diplomatic, military, and intelligence teams, I have authorised the deployment of approximately 5,000 U.S. troops to make sure we can have an 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.

“Second, I have ordered our Armed Forces and our Intelligence Community to ensure that we will maintain the capability and the vigilance to address future terrorist threats from Afghanistan.

“Third, I have directed the Secretary of State to support President Ghani and other Afghan leaders as they seek to prevent further bloodshed and pursue a political settlement. Secretary Blinken will also engage with key regional stakeholders.

“Fourth, we have conveyed to the Taliban representatives in Doha, via our Combatant Commander, that any action on their part on the ground in Afghanistan, that puts U.S. personnel or our mission at risk there, will be met with a swift and strong U.S. military response.

“Fifth, I have placed Ambassador Tracey Jacobson in charge of a whole-of-government effort to process, transport, and relocate Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants and other Afghan allies. Our hearts go out to the brave Afghan men and women who are now at risk. We are working to evacuate thousands of those who helped our cause and their families.

“That is what we are going to do. Now let me be clear about how we got here.

“America went to Afghanistan 20 years ago to defeat the forces that attacked this country on September 11th. That mission resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden over a decade ago and the degradation of al Qaeda. And yet, 10 years later, when I became President, a small number of U.S. troops still remained on the ground, in harm’s way, with a looming deadline to withdraw them or go back to open combat.

“Over our country’s 20 years at war in Afghanistan, America has sent its finest young men and women, invested nearly $1 trillion dollars, trained over 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police, equipped them with state-of-the-art military equipment, and maintained their air force “as part of the longest war in U.S. history. One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country. And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me.

“When I came to office, I inherited a deal cut by my predecessor—which he invited the Taliban to discuss at Camp David on the eve of 9/11 of 2019—that left the Taliban in the strongest position militarily since 2001 and imposed a May 1, 2021 deadline on U.S. Forces. Shortly before he left office, he also drew U.S. Forces down to a bare minimum of 2,500.

“Therefore, when I became President, I faced a choice—follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our Forces and our allies’ Forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict.”

Biden ended the statement by saying: “I was the fourth President to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan—two Republicans, two Democrats.

“I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth.”

What did Biden say about the decision for the US to withdraw from Afghanistan?

On Monday (16 August), the President returned to the White House from the Camp David presidential retreat, and made his first public remarks on the ongoing situation in almost a week.

He said: “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 - that’s why we’re still there.”

Biden added: “The truth is, this did all unfold more quickly than we had anticipated. So what’s happening? Afghan 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 reinforce that ending US military involvement in Afghanistan now was the first decision.

“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.”

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