Afghanistan: Joe Biden defends decision to pull US troops as seven die in Kabul airport chaos

US presidents says mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to be nation building

Eyewitness footage has captured people attempting to flee Afghanistan by clinging to the side of a US military plane as it taxied for takeoff in Kabul. Three people were reported to have been killed after falling from the undercarriage after takeoff.

 

US president Joe Biden has said he stands “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, and that the government’s collapse was quicker than anticipated.

Speaking in a televised address to the US nation on Monday, Mr Biden said he was faced with a choice between sticking to a previously negotiated agreement to withdraw US troops this year or sending thousands more service members back into Afghanistan for a “third decade” of war.

Mr Biden said he will not repeat mistakes of the past and did not regret his decision to proceed with the withdrawal.

“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Mr Biden said, speaking from the White House East Room.

“After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces.”

Mr Biden said he would rather take the criticism over the fallout in Afghanistan than leave the decision to another president.

He said the decision to leave Afghanistan is “the right one for America.”

Senior US military officials earlier said chaos at Kabul airport in Afghanistan on Monday morning left seven people dead, including some who fell from a departing US military transport jet.

Afghans rushed onto the tarmac of the capital’s airport on Monday as thousands tried to flee the country after the Taliban seized power with stunning speed.

Some clung to the side of a US military plane before takeoff, in a widely shared video that captured the sense of desperation as America’s 20-year war comes to a chaotic end.

Another video showed the Afghans falling as the plane gained altitude over Kabul.

The US military is sending another battalion of about 1,000 troops to help safeguard the airport, where US forces killed two armed people during increasingly chaotic evacuation efforts.

Afghans crowd at the airport as US soldiers stand guard in Kabul on Monday. Photograph: Shakib Rahmani/AFP via Getty Images
Afghans crowd at the airport as US soldiers stand guard in Kabul on Monday. Photograph: Shakib Rahmani/AFP via Getty Images

A Pentagon spokesperson said there were indications that one US soldier was wounded.

The first of three German evacuation planes diverted to the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, because it could not land in Kabul, which lies in a valley surrounded by mountains. A second plane circled over the city.

Ben Wallace, defence secretary of usually staunch US ally Britain, said earlier on Friday that the 2020 Doha withdrawal accord struck with the Taliban by Trump was a “rotten deal.”

President flees

The UN security council called for talks to create a new government in Afghanistan after secretary general Antonio Guterres warned of “chilling” curbs on human rights and violations against women and girls. French president Emmanuel Macron urged the United Nations to act with a single voice.

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani fled on Sunday as the Islamist militants entered Kabul virtually unopposed, saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said US forces were working with Turkish and other international troops to clear Kabul airport to allow international evacuation flights to resume. He said several hundred people had been flown out so far.

Mr Kirby, speaking at a news briefing in Washington, said defence secretary Lloyd Austin had authorised the deployment of another battalion to Kabul that would bring the number of troops guarding the evacuation to about 6,000.

Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban, said in a message on Twitter that the group’s fighters were under strict orders not to harm anyone.

“Life, property and honour of no one shall be harmed but must be protected by the mujahideen,” he said.

It took the Taliban just over a week to seize control of the whole country after a lightning sweep that ended in Kabul as government forces, trained for years and equipped by the United States and others, melted away.

Taliban fighters in the presidential palce in Kabul on Sunday night. Photograph: Zabi Karimi/AP
Taliban fighters in the presidential palce in Kabul on Sunday night. Photograph: Zabi Karimi/AP

US officers had long worried that corruption would undermine the resolve of badly paid, ill-fed and erratically supplied frontline soldiers.

‘Same situation’

Hundreds of Afghan soldiers fled to Uzbekistan with 22 military planes and 24 helicopters during the weekend, including one aircraft that collided with an escorting Uzbek fighter jet, causing both to crash, Uzbekistan said.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and US secretary of state Antony Blinken discussed Afghanistan by phone and agreed to continue talks with China, Pakistan and the United Nations, Russia said.

Mohammad Naeem, spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, told Al Jazeera TV the form of Afghanistan’s new government would be made clear soon. He said the Taliban did not want to live in isolation.

The militants sought to project a more moderate face, promising to respect women’s rights and protect both foreigners and Afghans.

But many Afghans fear the Taliban will return to past harsh practices. During their 1996-2001 rule, women could not work and punishments such as public stoning, whipping and hanging were administered.

“As far as I am concerned, Afghanistan will become a caliphate and a refuge for Islamic forces,” said Andreas Eggert, state chairman of the Federal Association of German Veterans, who served in Afghanistan.

“And, before long, we will see the same situation we saw 20 years ago.”

Imminent

Analysts said many Afghan troops had calculated that Mr Ghani’s exit was imminent once the US troops were withdrawn and were unwilling to die for a failing cause.

Mr Ghani, a former World Bank official, had resisted pressure to resign and initiate a power-sharing arrangement with the Taliban. He fled the country to an undisclosed location as an assault on the capital appeared imminent.

Taliban fighters took control of the empty presidential palace and abandoned police posts in the capital without a struggle on Sunday. The Taliban has also reportedly freed thousands of prison inmates, many of them hardcore Islamist fighters associated with various militant groups.

The US currently has almost 6,000 troops in Kabul but military officials said their mission is only to facilitate the safe and rapid evacuation of US civilians, other foreign nationals and some Afghan allies. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021. Additional reporting: Agencies