Biden on Afghanistan: 'Never supposed to be nation-building'

Publish Date
Tue, 17 Aug 2021, 9:07am

Biden on Afghanistan: 'Never supposed to be nation-building'

Publish Date
Tue, 17 Aug 2021, 9:07am

A defiant US President Joe Biden says he stands "squarely behind" his decision to withdraw forces from Afghanistan and that the Afghan government's collapse was quicker than anticipated.

Biden said he was faced with a choice between sticking to a previously negotiated agreement to withdraw US troops this year or sending thousands more service members back into Afghanistan for a "third decade" of war.

The President said he will not repeat mistakes of the past and did not regret his decision to proceed with the withdrawal.

"I stand squarely behind my decision," Biden said in a televised address to the nation from the White House East Room. "After 20 years, I've learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces."

Biden said he'd rather take the criticism over the fallout in Afghanistan than leave the decision to another president. He said the decision to leave Afghanistan is "the right one for America".

But he accused Afghan leaders of "giving up and fleeing the country" and says the Afghan army "did not try to fight".

"Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation-building," he said. "Americans should not be dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight themselves."

At least seven people were killed at Kabul's airport on Monday amid desperate scenes as thousands tried to force their way onto flights and avoid being left in the hands of the Taliban.

Crowds mobbed the tarmac at Hamid Karzai International, scaling walls and gantries as they tried to fight their way onto aircraft. As lumbering military aircraft taxied for take-off to ferry international diplomats to safety, hundreds of young men ran alongside and climbed on the moving planes.

Apache helicopter gunships could be seen hovering low across the runways in advance of transports, trying to sweep a way through the crowds.

Seven killed in Afghanistan's Kabul airport chaos as Taliban patrols capital

Warning: Distressing content

Thousands of Afghans rushed into Kabul's main airport on Monday, some so desperate to escape the Taliban that they held onto a military jet as it took off and plunged to their deaths. At least seven people died in the chaos, US officials said, as America's longest war ended with its enemy the victor.

The crowds came while the Taliban enforced their rule over the capital of five million people after a lightning advance across the country that took just over a week to dethrone the country's Western-backed government. There were no major reports of abuses or fighting, but many residents stayed home and remained fearful after the insurgents' advance saw prisons emptied and armouries looted.

Across the nation, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that thousands had been wounded in fighting. Elsewhere, security forces and politicians handed over their provinces and bases without a fight, likely believing the two-decade Western experiment to remake Afghanistan would not survive the resurgent Taliban. The last American troops had planned to withdraw at the end of the month.

Taliban fighters stand guard on the back of vehicle with a machine gun in front of main gate leading to Afghan presidential palace, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo / AP

"The world is following events in Afghanistan with a heavy heart and deep disquiet about what lies ahead," warned United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

As the US military and others continued evacuation flights, Afghans swarmed over the international airport's tarmac. Some climbed into aircraft parked on the taxiway, while others dangled precariously off a jet bridge.

Footage captured in Kabul shows crowds of citizens trying to escape the city as the Taliban retakes power. Video / AP

US troops took positions to guard the active runway, but the crowd stormed past them and their armoured vehicles. Gunshots rang out. As one US Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III tried to take off, a helicopter did low runs in front of it to try to drive people off the runway.

Videos showed a group of Afghans hanging onto the plane just before takeoff and several falling through the air as the airplane rapidly gained altitude over the city.

Senior American military officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing operation, told the Associated Press that the chaos left seven dead, including several who fell from the flight. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said US forces killed two people he described as carrying weapons in the melee. He said 1000 more US troops would be deployed to secure the airfield and back up the 2500 already there.

Seven killed in Afghanistan's Kabul airport chaos as Taliban patrols capital. Video / BBC

Late Monday night, hundreds of people remained trapped between American forces trying to push them out of the airport and Taliban forces trying to keep them in, witnesses said. An Associated Press journalist also saw what appeared to be an airstrike target two vehicles near the airport.

Shafi Arifi, who had a ticket to travel to Uzbekistan on Sunday, was unable to board his plane because it was packed with people who had raced across the tarmac and climbed aboard, with no police or airport staff in sight.

"There was no room for us to stand," said the 24-year-old. "Children were crying, women were shouting, young and old men were so angry and upset, no one could hear each other. There was no oxygen to breathe."

Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo / AP

After a woman fainted and was carried off the plane, Arifi gave up and returned home.

Other Afghans, like Rakhmatula Kuyash, are also trying to leave through land border crossings, all of which are now controlled by the Taliban.

"I'm lost and I don't know what to do," said Kuyash, who crossed into Uzbekistan on Sunday after leaving his children and relatives in Afghanistan. "I left everything behind."

Others were not so lucky. Uzbekistan air defences shot down an Afghan military aircraft that tried to enter the country without permission. The two pilots were reportedly injured and in custody.