Joe Biden, President of the United States, speaks about the American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in the East Room of the White House. Photo: Evan Vucci / AP / dpa
“I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan,” said Biden on Thursday (local time) in a speech in the White House. The US president admitted to journalists that the militant Islamist Taliban are now stronger than ever since the fall of their regime at the end of 2001. But a takeover by the Taliban is “not inevitable,” he said.
Originally, Biden had announced September 11th as the deadline for the end of the mission. Then it will be the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks by the terrorist network Al-Qaeda in the USA, as a result of which the operation began. Despite the threatening situation, Biden did not want to admit a failure of the US mission. He said the operation had two goals: to bring Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden “to the gates of hell” and to deprive the terror network of the ability to attack the United States from Afghanistan. “We have achieved both of these goals.”
Biden also said: “We didn’t go to Afghanistan to build a nation.” In fact, for most of the US-led operation, the goal was very well to stabilize Afghanistan, build democracy and uphold human rights. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the Chinese “Global Times” in an interview published on Thursday: “It is clear that the US has failed.”
The prominent Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called the withdrawal decision of the Democrat Biden “an impending disaster”. Graham criticized on Twitter that Biden did not understand that conditions were just developing in Afghanistan for a resurgence of al-Qaeda and the terrorist militia Islamic State, which posed a threat to the United States.
The Afghan security forces are rapidly losing ground, and the Taliban are taking more and more districts. At the beginning of the week, more than 1,000 Afghan soldiers fled to neighboring Tajikistan out of fear for their lives. The “Wall Street Journal” reported at the end of last month on new assessments by the US secret services, according to which the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani could topple six to twelve months after the withdrawal of US troops – Biden denied this on Thursday. The US commander in Afghanistan, Austin Miller, said last week, according to American media reports: “Civil war is certainly a path that can be imagined if it continues as it is now.”
How bad things are going can also be seen from the Americans’ withdrawal. In a night-and-fog operation, the US troops left their most important base in Bagram at the end of last week – without even informing the Afghan allies. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby confirmed that neither the Afghan government nor the military were deliberately informed of the exact time of the withdrawal. “I cannot say how the Afghans interpreted this decision, but it was a decision made in the best interests of the safety of our people.” After almost 20 years of fighting together, trust looks different.
Biden fought on Thursday in the White House against comparisons with the US defeat in the Vietnam War. “The Taliban are not the North Vietnamese army,” he said. There will be no pictures like the one from Saigon in 1975, where Americans and allied Vietnamese were flown in helicopters from the roof of the US embassy. The fact that Biden is confronted with such comparisons at all says a lot about the US military operation in Afghanistan, which his spokeswoman Jen Psaki described on Thursday: “It is a 20-year war that was not won militarily.”
Biden had decided single-handedly to withdraw from the United States, knowing that it would also mean the end of the NATO mission. The Bundeswehr flew the last German soldiers out of Afghanistan last week. During the election campaign, Biden had already promised to end “eternal wars” in the USA like the one in Afghanistan – his predecessors in the White House had failed because of the project.
More than 1,800 US soldiers have been killed in attacks or skirmishes in Afghanistan since the deployment began in October 2001, and more than 20,000 more were wounded. According to the Pentagon, soldiers will remain in Afghanistan after the end of the military mission, primarily to protect the embassy in Kabul.
The Washington Post recently commented that Biden should reconsider the swift withdrawal he had ordered in view of the incipient disintegration of the Afghan government and army. Instead, he was “cold” in view of the country’s plight. Biden is sticking to his course, even if the withdrawal endangers the achievements of 20 years of international engagement. When a reporter approached him last Friday about the dire situation in Afghanistan, he said: “I want to talk about happy things.”