Washington (AP) – Despite the Taliban taking power in Afghanistan, US President Joe Biden defended his decision to withdraw US troops from the country against mounting criticism.
Biden defends himself
“I fully support my decision,” Biden said at the White House on Monday. Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD), on the other hand, admitted that the international community had misjudged the situation in Afghanistan and failed to achieve its goals during the mission. Biden, in turn, stressed that the latest developments had only strengthened his decision. At the same time, he threatened the Taliban with retaliation if they attacked US troops or targets.
Biden said the Taliban must anticipate a “quick and strong” military response from the United States in the event of actions that would endanger American personnel or their mission. “We will defend our people with devastating force if necessary.”
Criticism of Afghan leadership
The US president has made serious accusations against the country’s powerless political leaders and armed forces. “Afghanistan’s political leaders have given up and fled the country,” he said. “The Afghan army has collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.” Recent events have confirmed that the withdrawal decision was correct. “U.S. troops cannot and should not fight in a war and die in a war that the Afghan forces do not want to wage for themselves.” 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 virtually all provincial capitals in Afghanistan at breakneck speed – many without a fight. On Sunday, they finally moved to the capital, Kabul. There were no fights. The lightning strike surprised many observers, experts and also foreign governments.
Maas: ‘Situation misjudged’
Maas admitted there was nothing to cover up: “All of us – the federal government, the intelligence services, the international community – misjudged the situation.” Merkel strongly agreed. “We had a misjudgment. And that’s not a wrong German assessment, it’s widespread,” she said. Apart from the fight against terrorism, everything “didn’t go as well as we intended”. It had “not been a successful effort,” she said, referring to the effort to lead the country towards democracy and peace and develop a free society there.
On paper, the Taliban were far inferior to the Afghan security 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.
Aftermath of 9/11
At that time, the Taliban had implemented their ideas of an Islamic state with sometimes barbaric punishments: women and girls were systematically oppressed, artists and the media were censored, human rights violations were the order of the day. A return to such bleak conditions is now feared.
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.
French President Emmanuel Macron warned that Afghanistan could become another port of terrorism. He announced an initiative with European partners against this. After a phone call with Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that he would also like to talk about Afghanistan with the G7 – a group of leading industrial countries – in the coming days. Johnson had previously warned that the country should not become a breeding ground for terrorism again.
Fights al-Qaeda effectively, according to Biden
Biden, on the other hand, argued that the original goal of the US operation in Afghanistan, to wipe out the terrorist group Al-Qaeda after the September 11, 2001 attacks, had been achieved. Bin Laden was also assassinated. The US could effectively fight Islamist terror groups such as Al-Qaeda even without a permanent military presence in the target country – the US military demonstrates this in other countries such as Somalia or Yemen. The US president also stressed that it was never the mission’s goal to create a unified democracy there.
The US, Germany and other Western states began in great haste to fly their citizens and vulnerable local Afghan workers out of Afghanistan. The US sent several thousand soldiers to Kabul to secure the evacuation operations. According to its own statements, the American army is now deployed there with about 2,500 soldiers. It should be up to 6,000 in a few days, according to the Pentagon.
Chaos at Kabul . Airport
Dramatic scenes took place at the Kabul airport. Hundreds or maybe thousands of desperate people tried to get on flights, as videos in online media showed. Footage supposedly showing people falling from a military plane from a great height caused horror. It was suspected that they were hiding or holding on to the landing gear. This information could not be independently verified at first.
Under difficult circumstances given the chaotic conditions, the first Bundeswehr aircraft started its evacuation mission at Kabul Airport. After hours of delay and waiting loops, the A400M plane landed there Tuesday night, dropped paratroopers to secure the rescue, took people on board to flee and quickly took off again.
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.
The administration of Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump had initiated the withdrawal. After taking office, Biden decided not to pull out, only to change the schedule. In doing so, he defied warnings from experts who had predicted the disastrous consequences of an unconditional withdrawal.