Joe Biden Defends Afghanistan Withdrawal: 'It Was Time to End This War'

In a defiant speech Tuesday, President Joe Biden defended his decision to stick to this week's deadline to end America's longest war and pull troops from Afghanistan after nearly two decades.

"I was not going to extend this forever war, and I was not going to extend a forever exit," he said in a nearly 30-minute address from the White House. "We succeeded in what we set out to do in Afghanistan over a decade ago. It was time to end this war."

Biden, who has long been a critic of the continued military presence in Afghanistan, has faced backlash as chaotic scenes unfolded at the airport in Kabul. He didn't directly address the people of Afghanistan who are being left under Taliban rule and without the supportive cover of American military forces.

"If you're 20 years old today, you've never known an America at peace," he said. "As we close 20 years of war and strife and pain and sacrifice, it's time to look to the future and not the past."

He indirectly acknowledged his U.S. critics, repeatedly referring to his predecessor in the White House without naming former President Donald Trump, blaming deals "the previous administration" made for the outcome of the military withdrawal two weeks ahead of the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"Let me be clear, leaving by August 31 was not due to an arbitrary deadline—it was designed to save American lives," Biden said. "By the time I took office, the Taliban was in its strongest military position since 2001."

Biden has spent weeks defending plans to end the war in Afghanistan by highlighting what he has described as a lack of a major national security threat from Afghanistan, and promising to shift the nation's foreign policy focus to countries more likely to host terrorists who could launch an attack on the United States.

But the Islamic-hardline Taliban quickly toppled the Afghan government, after the country's American-trained military retreated.

The last U.S. military plane left Afghanistan this week a minute before a Taliban-agreed deadline to have American service members out of the country.

Thirteen American service members and dozens of Afghan allies were killed when ISIS-K, an ISIS-affiliated terrorist group that operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan, attacked the airport in Kabul in the final days of evacuations.

As many as 200 Americans remain in the country, unable to evacuate in time, despite months of warnings from the federal government and a promise from Biden that no Americans would be left behind.

"The bottom line: 90 percent of Americans in Afghanistan wanting to leave were able to leave," Biden said Tuesday.

Critics of the Biden administration—House Republicans among the most vocal—have angrily decried the handling of the military withdrawal, though many agreed with ending America's longest war when Trump reached an agreement with the Taliban last year and set out on a similar path to bring troops home.

"The accountability needs to be there, but most importantly, Americans need to be able to be brought home," House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, of California, told reporters Tuesday. "This cannot be our history, this cannot be where this ends."

The White House released a statement from the president on Monday that said there was unanimous agreement among U.S. military leaders to stick to Tuesday's deadline to end the airlift mission, despite Americans remaining in Afghanistan unable to evacuate.

"The feeling everybody gets is disgrace, embarrassment, anger that we allowed this to happen," U.S. Representative Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican and Navy SEAL who was wounded by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2012, told reporters before Biden's remarks.

"Another refusal—an abdication of duty from this administration," he said. "America is far less safe than it was."

Biden responds to Afghanistan troop withdrawal
The Taliban joyously fired guns into the air and offered words of reconciliation on August 31, 2021, as they celebrated what they termed defeating the United States and returning to power after two decades of war that devastated Afghanistan. Above, Taliban fighters patrol along a street in Kabul on August 31. Hoshang Hashimi / AFP/Getty Images