Washington (AP) – US President Joe Biden has threatened the Taliban with a “quick and strong” military response in the event of an attack on US forces.
This applies to any Taliban action in Afghanistan that would endanger US personnel or their mission, Biden said at the White House on Monday. “We will defend our people with devastating force if necessary.” The US president fiercely defended his decision to withdraw US troops from the crisis country: he was adamant about his decision.
Criticism of the Afghan army
“US troops cannot and should not fight in a war and die in a war that the Afghan armed forces do not want to wage for themselves,” said Biden, who made serious accusations against the country’s impotent political leadership and armed forces. “Afghanistan’s political leaders have given up and fled the country,” he lamented.
“The Afghan army has collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.” Recent events have confirmed that the withdrawal decision was correct. Biden admitted, however, that the US had underestimated the speed of the Taliban’s advance: “This has developed faster than we expected.”
In recent weeks, following the withdrawal of foreign troops, the Taliban had taken almost all of the country’s provincial capitals at breakneck speed – many without a fight. They also entered Kabul on Sunday. There were no fights. The lightning strike surprised many observers, experts and also the US government.
Brutal reputation of the Taliban
On paper, the Taliban were inferior to the Afghan armed forces. It is estimated that about 300,000 police and military personnel were confronted by about 60,000 less well-equipped Taliban fighters. However, these take advantage of their brutal reputation, which they acquired during their reign in the 1990s through public executions or flogging.
Biden said the US had trained and equipped Afghan security forces. But the United States could not have given them the will to fight for their future. Last week, Biden complained about the Afghan security forces’ unwillingness to fight.
Biden: Original goal achieved
Biden’s speech on Monday was his first public statement since the militant Islamist Taliban took power in Afghanistan and the capital Kabul. The US president stressed that the original goal of the US operation in Afghanistan, the eradication of the terrorist group Al-Qaeda after the September 11, 2001 attacks, had long been achieved. The US could effectively fight Islamist terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda without a permanent military presence in the target country, he said. The US military shows this in other countries such as Somalia or Yemen. If necessary, this could also happen in Afghanistan in the future.
The Taliban had once housed al-Qaeda fighters and the then head of the terrorist organization Osama bin Laden. The attacks by the terrorist group in the US on September 11, 2001, subsequently led to the US-led military operation in Afghanistan, which overthrew the Taliban. Bin Laden himself was killed in May 2011 during an operation by US special forces in Pakistan.
During their rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban carried out their ideas of an Islamic state with sometimes barbaric punishment: women and girls were systematically oppressed, artists and the media were censored and human rights violations were the order of the day. A return to the bleak conditions in Afghanistan is now feared.
After the Taliban came to power, the United States, Germany and other Western countries began hastily evacuating their citizens and vulnerable Afghan local workers. The US sent several thousand soldiers to Kabul to secure the evacuation operations. According to their own statements, the US military is now deployed at the Kabul airport with about 2,500 soldiers. It should be up to 6,000 in a few days, according to the Pentagon. Dramatic scenes recently took place at the Kabul airport. Hundreds or maybe thousands of desperate people tried to board flights to flee the country, as videos in online media showed.
The chaos in Afghanistan caused international horror and pressured Biden over his decision to withdraw. In the spring, he announced that the roughly 2,500 U.S. soldiers remaining would leave Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Most recently, the withdrawal date was brought forward to the end of August. In view of the withdrawal of the American troops, the other NATO partners also took their soldiers home.
Biden again pointed out Monday that he had “inherited” an agreement from his predecessor, ex-President Donald Trump, that had already led to a troop withdrawal. Moving away from that would have escalated, he argued. In a much-criticized deal with the Taliban in Doha last year, the Trump administration negotiated the withdrawal of all international troops by May 1. After taking office, Biden decided not to roll back, only to change the schedule. In doing so, he ignored warnings from experts who had predicted the disastrous consequences of an unconditional withdrawal.