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Biden Vows He “Won’t Repeat Mistakes in Afghanistan”

President Joe Biden addressed the nation about the ongoing events in Afghanistan on Friday afternoon. Credit: White House/Katie Ricks

US President Joe Biden addressed the political situation in Afghanistan on Friday as the country faces increasing problems in finding destinations which will take in the thousands of Afghans at the Kabul airport who are attempting to flee the country.

Biden began his remarks by harkening back to twenty years ago. “I want to remind everyone how we got here, going beck to the ideals of September 11, 2011,” he stated, sag that the overarching concern at that time was to take out those who had used the country as a base to attack the United States and ensure that Afghanistan “could never be used as a base to attack our country ever again.

“Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to be a nation building exercise, or meant to build a centralized bureaucracy,” he added.

Sating that the US now needs to keep its eyes focused on the current threats posed by terrorists such as what he referred to as a “metastasized” ISIS, he added that he had opposed the troop surge in 2009 when he was Vice President because even at that time we needed to “focus on the threats of today, not yesterday.”

ISIS’ attempts to create a caliphate, and other threats around the world “warrant our attention and our resources.”

While we have been in Afghanistan, he noted, the US has “developed counter terrorism over-the-horizon ability in order that the country can act quickly and decisively” to any terror threats that occur.

“I will not repeat the mistakes we made in the past”

He reminded the American public that under former President Trump’s agreement, American forces were supposed to be out of Afghanistan by May of 2021. Under his leadership, he stated, the number of US troops on the ground there has been drawn down from 15,500 to 2,500 troops.

Meanwhile, he said, the Taliban is now “at the strongest it has been since in 2001.” The choice, he then said, was to follow through with that previous draw-down agreement or launch another attack on the Taliban, getting us into our third decade of fighting in Afghanistan.

Biden stated it was either this “Cold reality of either following through with the agreement or escalating the conflict and sending resounds of Americans” back to Afghanistan. After 20 years I have learned the hard way, he stated. “There is never a good time to draw out US forces.

“I always promised the American people that I would be straight with you,” he stated. “Afghanistan’s political leaders gave up  and fled the country, and the country’s military collapsed without even trying to fight.”

In the end, Biden declared, his was “the right decision. American troops cannot and shoild not be fighting and dying in a war that Afghans cannot fight themselves.”

The US’ efforts there over the past 20 years, he added, cost the country over a trillion dollars. Afghanistan has — or had — an army of 300,000, he added. “This is larger than than of many of our NATO allies,” he noted.

“We paid for their salaries, and provided an air force to them. We provided them every chance to create their own future.” While noting that “There are some very brave special forces in Afghan units,” Biden stated that there was “No chance that one or five or 20 more years “would have made any difference” in how things played out in Afghanistan.

Afghan leaders “Unable to come together for the good of their own people”

Political leaders in Afghanistan, he said, “were unable to come together for the good of their own people” while “Our competitors Russia and China would love nothing more than to have us continue to pour billions of dollars into Afghanistan.

“I will not repeat the mistakes we made in the past, of fighting indefinitely when it is not in the interest of the United States through the endless deployment of US forces,” the President said, “Unless we have significant vital interests in that part of the world.”

Noting how gut-wrenching the scenes coming out of the country have been this week, Biden stated that they have been very personal. “Now we are focused on what is possible,” he stated, assuring the public that “We will continue to protect the Afghan people.
We will continue to speak out on the basic rights of the Afghan people, particularly women and girls.

“But the way to do it is not through endless military deployment,” Biden declared, saying that the US will rally the world to join us in his efforts to help the people of the war-torn country.

Stating that the US had safely shut down the embassy and transferred diplomats, the US’ plan now is to transport out thousands of American citizens who are still there, and civilian personnel of our allies as well. “Operation Allied Refugee” has already moved 2,000 Afghans and their families to the US, Biden noted, adding that in the coming days the US military will move more of these people out of Afghanistan.

US non-governmental organizations, he pointed out, will help other Afghans who are now at great risk.

As to why we didn’t evacuate many more people from the country sooner, Biden added, “Some Afghans didn’t to want to leave because they were still hopeful about the fate of the country.”

In addition, he stated, the former leadership of Afghanistan “didn’t want to trigger a mass exodus from the country since that would have led to a loss of confidence” in the Afghan government.

“We have made it clear to the Taliban that if they attack us, the response would be swift and forceful, using devastating force if necessary,” Biden stated, referring to the Taliban forces that are encircling the Kabul airport.

Referring to the overall achievements in the US mission in Afghanistan, Biden stated matter-of-factly that “The mission to kill Osama bin Laden was a success, while nation-building was not.

“I cannot ask our troops to fight endlessly in another nation’s civil war. This is not in our national security interest. It is not what our troops, who have sacrificed so much over the past decades, deserve.”

US looking for places for refugees to land

Meanwhile, the US is desperately looking for additional places to evacuate people to as there have been no flights out of Kabul for the last eight hours, according to CNN reporters on the ground there.

Many of the flights crammed with evacuees leaving Afghanistan have been going to Qatar, but that Gulf country is coming close to capacity for refugees, according to a Qatari official. That country had originally agreed to take on a total of 8,000 Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants along with their family members.

However, the Americans have included other individuals as well, who are P1/P2 visa applicants, which makes the situation far more complicated, a State Department official says. Qatar does not wish to accept any Afghans who are not already in the SIV process and have not been vetted in some manner beforehand.

Now, Europe, including Germany’s Ramstein Air Force base, is being used as an alternative location for Afghan evacuees. Earlier on Friday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stated that German officials agreed with the U.S. that Ramstein Air Base in particular can be used temporarily for the transit of people seeking protection from Afghanistan to the United States.”

Two Department of Homeland Security officials stated that DHS personnel will travel to Germany in order to help with the processing of SIV applicants and the US’ Afghan allies.

NATO foreign ministers voice “Deep concern”

Meanwhile on Friday, the foreign Ministers of all the nations belonging to NATO took part in an extraordinary meeting of the military alliance as they grappled with the rapidly changing political landscape of Afghanistan.

After the twenty- year long military effort on the part of NATO nations in the troubled country, American forces lost control of most of the war-torn nation this past week as the Taliban swept into power, facing almost no resistance from the Afghan Army.

The foreign ministers released the  following statement after the conclusion of their meeting:

1. We, the Foreign Ministers of NATO, met today to discuss the difficult situation in Afghanistan.

2. We are united in our deep concern about the grave events in Afghanistan and call for an immediate end to the violence. We also express deep concerns about reports of serious human rights violations and abuses across Afghanistan. We affirm our commitment to the statement by the UN Security Council on 16 August, and we call for adherence to international norms and standards on human rights and international humanitarian law in all circumstances.

3. Our immediate task is now to meet our commitments to continue the safe evacuation of our citizens, partner country nationals, and at-risk Afghans, in particular those who have assisted our efforts. We call on those in positions of authority in Afghanistan to respect and facilitate their safe and orderly departure, including through Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. As long as evacuation operations continue, we will maintain our close operational coordination through Allied military means at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

4. The Afghan people deserve to live in safety, security and dignity, and to build on the important political, economic and social achievements they have made over the last twenty years. We stand by civil society actors who must be able to continue to safely play their meaningful role in Afghan society. We call on all parties in Afghanistan to work in good faith to establish an inclusive and representative government, including with the meaningful participation of women and minority groups. Under the current circumstances, NATO has suspended all support to the Afghan authorities. Any future Afghan government must adhere to Afghanistan’s international obligations; safeguard the human rights of all Afghans, particularly women, children, and minorities; uphold the rule of law; allow unhindered humanitarian access; and ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a safe haven for terrorists.

5. For the last twenty years, we have successfully denied terrorists a safe haven in Afghanistan from which to instigate attacks. We will not allow any terrorists to threaten us. We will remain committed to fighting terrorism with determination, resolve, and in solidarity.

6. We honour the service and sacrifice of all who have worked tirelessly over the last twenty years to realise a better future for Afghanistan. Together, we will fully reflect our engagement in Afghanistan and draw the necessary lessons. We will continue to promote the stable, prosperous Afghanistan that the Afghan people deserve and address the critical questions facing Afghanistan and the region, in the immediate future and beyond, including through our cooperation with regional and international partners, such as the European Union and United Nations.”

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