Biden Defends Afghanistan Decision, Blames Trump for Empowering Taliban

President Joe Biden on Saturday defended his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, even as the Taliban continue to take over cities and provinces across the nation.

"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," Biden said in a White House statement. "An endless American presence in the middle of another country's civil conflict was not acceptable to me."

He also attacked former President Donald Trump for cutting a deal with the Taliban that he said left them "in the strongest position militarily since 2001," pulling 2,500 troops before he left office and imposing a May 1, 2021 deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces.

"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 said in the statement.

Passport office in Kabul
President Joe Biden defended his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. Here, Afghans are seen waiting in line at the passport office in Kabul as the Taliban advance on the capital city after taking other large cities. Paula Bronstein /Getty Images

Trump, in a Friday statement, blamed Biden for "the tragic mess in Afghanistan," adding, "Do you miss me yet?"

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, said Friday that "Afghanistan is careening toward a massive, predictable, and preventable disaster" and urged the Biden administration to do more to help Afghan forces.

Biden also outlined several plans to try to keep U.S. personnel safe. He said he's sending 5,000 troops into Afghanistan to help U.S. and allied personnel—as well as Afghans who helped U.S. troops and other vulnerable people—safely evacuate.

He ordered the military and intelligence communities to maintain the ability to address future terrorist threats, directed Secretary of State Antony Blinken to support Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and placed Ambassador Tracey Jacobson in charge of an effort to process, transport, and relocate Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants and allies, the statement said.

Biden has also conveyed to representatives from the Taliban that any action that puts U.S. personnel at risk will be met with a "swift and strong" military response, the statement said.

"Our hearts go out to the brave Afghan men and women who are now at risk," the statement said. "We are working to evacuate thousands of those who helped our cause and their families."

Biden announced in July that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan would end August 31. "We did not go to Afghanistan to nation build. Afghan leaders have to come together and drive toward a future," Biden said in a speech.

"How many more, how many more thousands of American daughters and sons are you willing to risk? I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan, with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome," Biden said.

The Taliban have quickly seized areas across the country. Few experts expect government forces to win back the areas or hold the capital Kabul. In about a week, the Taliban captured 16 provincial capitals. At the end of April, when Biden first ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops by September 11 (a date later changed to August 31), they controlled about 20 percent of districts; that number has since risen to about 60 percent as of Friday.

On Friday, the Taliban completed their takeover of Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan's fourth-largest city, a major setback for the government.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Friday that the speed at which the Taliban has moved is "deeply concerning."