Biden admits Taliban seizure of Kabul unexpectedly rapid - but blames deposed Afghan government

Irish and EU efforts to focus on extraction of their citizens as chaos reigns at airport

US president Joe Biden has defended his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan blaming the deposed government and its security forces for the swift collapse and ensuing chaos in the country. Video: Reuters

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US president Joe Biden last night defended his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, after a day of confusion and trauma that saw Kabul international airport overrun by civilians desperate to flee Taliban rule.

In a televised address, Mr Biden accepted that the collapse of the Afghan government on Sunday and Kabul’s seizure by the militant Islamist group had happened more quickly than expected.

But he put the blame for the chaos engulfing Kabul on the shoulders of the deposed government and its ineffectual security forces, saying the inability of US-backed authorities to fend off the Taliban proved he was right to withdraw American forces.

Mr Biden spoke as stability at the airport, the last secure territory for foreign nationals and diplomats in the country, continued to break down, with US forces opening fire and at least five Afghans dying amid the unrest.

Afghan people climb on top of an aircraft as they wait at the Kabul airport on Monday. Photograph: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images
Afghan people climb on top of an aircraft as they wait at the Kabul airport on Monday. Photograph: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images

A Pentagon spokesman said US troops at the airport had responded to “hostile threats that resulted in the death of two armed individuals”. Two others were killed after clinging to the wheels of military transport aircraft that were taking off.

Emergency session

European Union foreign ministers will meet in emergency session on Tuesday via teleconference to discuss the unfolding crisis, and officials were working on draft statements on Monday night.

Irish and EU efforts in the coming days are expected to focus on the extraction of their citizens from Afghanistan, officials said, though EU ministers are likely to signal that any aid to the next government in Kabul will be conditional on human rights being respected by the new regime.

Drafts discussed by EU ambassadors on Monday also referenced possible approaches to the new regime in Kabul and on how its recognition would be handled.

The expectation that aid would be made conditional on the upholding of human rights was seen as a sign that governments believe they have no choice but to accept the reality on the ground in Kabul, which has seen the Taliban retake control of Afghanistan 20 years after the militants were removed from power by the US and allied forces.

Irish officials stressed the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls, a core element of Irish foreign policy.

US president Joe Biden put the blame for the chaos engulfing Kabul on the shoulders of the deposed government and its ineffectual security forces. Photograph: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg
US president Joe Biden put the blame for the chaos engulfing Kabul on the shoulders of the deposed government and its ineffectual security forces. Photograph: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg

Mr Biden said the flight of government leaders from Afghanistan and the lack of the country’s forces’ “will to fight” in the face of Taliban insurgents meant it was wrong to send more Americans to fight a war that Afghans themselves would not.

“How many more generations of Americans’ daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghanistan’s civil war when Afghan troops will not?” he said in his first public comments since the fall of Kabul. “How many more lives, American lives, is it worth?”

Women of Afghanistan

Speaking at the United Nations Security Council in New York on Monday, Ireland’s UN ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason said she wished to address the women of Afghanistan directly.

“Women of Afghanistan, we hear you and we hear your pleas to the international community at this time,” she said.

She said that their sense of betrayal was “understood . . . it is righteous”.

“I call on this council to stand for the women of Afghanistan. Their rights and their future participation in Afghan society cannot be sacrificed. This is our shared responsibility at this table,” Ms Byrne Nason said.

She said that the rights of women in Afghanistan must be a “non-negotiable principle” in any talks with the Taliban, and expressed scepticism about the pledges by the Taliban to protect women, citing reports of “summary executions, forced marriages and of sexual and gender-based violence”.

“Girls must be free to attend school, women must be able to participate fully in society and those who speak up for human rights must be free to do so,” Ms Byrne Nason said. Additional reporting: Financial Times