Joe Biden's Speech on Afghanistan—7 Key Takeaways

President Joe Biden defended his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, in a speech addressing the nation on Monday.

The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan two weeks before the U.S. was scheduled to fully withdraw its troops, who have been there since 2001.

Crowds of Afghans have been making desperate attempts to escape the country in fear of what the future holds under Taliban rule. Shocking video footage has shown some allegedly clinging to airplanes taking off from the airport in Kabul, the country's capital.

The president stated Monday: "I am deeply saddened by the facts we now face. But I do not regret my decision to end America's war-fighting in Afghanistan and maintain a laser-focus on our counterterrorism missions there and in other parts of the world."

Here we take a closer look at the key points from President Biden's remarks on Afghanistan.

'Nation Building' Was Never the Goal in Afghanistan

The president explained that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan was "never supposed to have been nation building" or about "creating a unified, centralized democracy."

He noted that the U.S. troops arrived in Afghanistan nearly 20 years ago with "clear goals," and that was to "get those who attacked us on September 11, 2001, and make sure al Qaeda could not use Afghanistan as a base from which to attack us again."

"We did that. We severely degraded al Qaeda in Afghanistan. We never gave up the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and we got him. That was a decade ago," he continued.

The president added that he cannot ask troops to "fight on endlessly" in another country's civil war. "This is not in our national security interest. It is not what the American people want. It is not what our troops, who have sacrificed so much over the past two decades, deserve.

"Our only vital national interest in Afghanistan remains today what it has always been: preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland," the president said.

Withdrawing Now Was the Right Decision

Biden said that following two decades he "learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces" from Afghanistan. "That's why we were still there. We were clear-eyed about the risks. We planned for every contingency."

However, he said the situation "did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated," explaining that "Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight."

He added: "If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision."

No Length of Time in Afghanistan 'Would've Made Any Difference'

Biden stated that "no amount of military force" would be able to establish a "secure Afghanistan."

Noting the U.S. mission in Afghanistan had taken "many missteps" over the past 20 years, the president declared: "What is happening now could just as easily have happened 5 years ago or 15 years in the future."

He said that while there have been "very brave and capable" Afghan forces in the country, "if Afghanistan is unable to mount any real resistance to the Taliban now, there is no chance that 1 year — 1 more year, 5 more years, or 20 more years of U.S. military boots on the ground would've made any difference.

"I will not mislead the American people by claiming that just a little more time in Afghanistan will make all the difference."

Joe Biden delivers speech from White House.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House on August 16. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Afghan Forces 'Not Willing to Fight for Themselves'

Biden said that U.S. soldiers "cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves."

He said: "It is wrong to order American troops to step up when Afghanistan's own armed forces would not."

The president explained: "We gave them every tool they could need," highlighting that the U.S. spent over a trillion dollars to help train and equip the Afghan military force, including for the maintenance of their air force, which is "something the Taliban doesn't have."

"We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.

"If the political leaders of Afghanistan were unable to come together for the good of their people, unable to negotiate for the future of their country when the chips were down, they would never have done so while U.S. troops remained in Afghanistan bearing the brunt of the fighting for them," he said.

While Biden "talked extensively" with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani about the need for Afghan leaders to unite politically, "they failed to do any of that."

"I also urged them to engage in diplomacy, to seek a political settlement with the Taliban," he said, "this advice was flatly refused."

"Mr. Ghani insisted the Afghan forces would fight, but obviously he was wrong," Biden added.

Biden Will Not Pass the War Onto Next President

Biden vowed the country will not repeat the mistakes of the past and said: "I will not pass this responsibly on" to a fifth U.S. president, noting he is the fourth to preside over the war in Afghanistan.

He asked: "How many more lives—American lives—is it worth? How many endless rows of headstones at Arlington National Cemetery?

"I'm clear on my answer: I will not repeat the mistakes we've made in the past—the mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely in a conflict that is not in the national interest of the United States, of doubling down on a civil war in a foreign country, of attempting to remake a country through the endless military deployments of U.S. forces.

"Those are the mistakes we cannot continue to repeat, because we have significant vital interests in the world that we cannot afford to ignore," he said.

Counterterrorism Is Our Focus

Biden was "adamant that we focus on the threats we face today in 2021—not yesterday's threats," noting he'd argued for many years that "counterterrorism—not counterinsurgency or nation building" should be our focus.

"Today, the terrorist threat has metastasized well beyond Afghanistan: al Shabaab in Somalia, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Nusra in Syria, ISIS attempting to create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq and establishing affiliates in multiple countries in Africa and Asia. These threats warrant our attention and our resources."

He pledged that, if necessary, the U.S. would also "conduct effective counterterrorism missions" in Afghanistan, as done in several other countries where the U.S. does not have a permanent military presence.

The U.S. Will Continue to Support Afghan People

The president pledged the U.S. will continue to support Afghanistan with "our diplomacy, our international influence, and our humanitarian aid."

"I have been clear that human rights must be the center of our foreign policy, not the periphery. But the way to do it is not through endless military deployments; it's with our diplomacy, our economic tools, and rallying the world to join us."

He said the U.S. will continue to push for "regional diplomacy and engagement to prevent violence and instability" as well as help defend "the basic rights of the Afghan people," including for women and girls.

Biden said 6,000 U.S. troops have been deployed to Afghanistan to assist in the departure of U.S. and allied civilian personnel as well as to evacuate "Afghan allies and vulnerable Afghans" out of Afghanistan.

The president stated that U.S. troops are working to secure the airfield and "over the coming days, we intend to transport out thousands of American citizens who have been living and working in Afghanistan.

"We'll also continue to support the safe departure of civilian personnel — the civilian personnel of our Allies who are still serving in Afghanistan," he added.

Taliban fighters in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Taliban fighters stand guard at an entrance gate outside the Interior Ministry in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 17. Javed Tanveer / AFP via Getty Image