The Associated Press
Created: August 31, 2021 04:50 PM
Addressing the nation, a defensive President Joe Biden on Tuesday called the U.S. military airlift to extract more than 120,000 Afghans, Americans and other allies to end a 20 year war an “extraordinary success,” though more than 100 Americans and thousands of Afghans looking to leave remain.
Twenty-four hours after the departure of the last American C-17 cargo plane from Kabul, Biden vigorously defended his decision to end America's longest war and withdraw all U.S. troops ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline.
"I was not going to extend this forever war," Biden said in an address from the White House State Dining Room. "And I was not going to extend a forever exit.”
Biden has faced tough questions about the way the U.S. went about leaving Afghanistan - a chaotic evacuation and spasms of violence including a suicide bomb that killed 13 American service members and 169 Afghans.
He is under heavy criticism, particularly from Republicans, for his handling of the evacuation, though it successfully airlifted more than 120,000 people from Kabul airport.
But he said it was inevitable that the final departure from two decades of war would be difficult with likely violence, no matter when it was planned and conducted.
"Let me be clear, leaving August the 31st is not due to an arbitrary deadline. It was designed to save American lives," Biden said.
In addition to all the questions at home, Biden is also adjusting to a new relationship with the Taliban, the Islamist militant group that the U.S. toppled after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and that is now once again in power in Afghanistan.
The last Air Force transport plane departed Kabul one minute before midnight Monday, raising questions about why Biden didn't continue the airlift for at least another day. He had set Tuesday as a deadline for ending the evacuation and pulling out remaining troops after the Taliban took over the country.
The closing hours of the evacuation were marked by extraordinary drama. American troops faced the daunting task of getting final evacuees onto planes while also getting themselves and some of their equipment out, even as they monitored repeated threats - and at least two actual attacks - by the Islamic State group's Afghanistan affiliate. A suicide bombing on Aug. 26 killed 13 American service members and some 180 Afghans. More died in various incidents during the airport evacuation.
The final pullout fulfilled Biden's pledge to end what he called a “forever war” that began in response to the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and rural Pennsylvania. His decision, announced in April, reflected a national weariness of the Afghanistan conflict.
The Associated Press
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