President Joe Biden said he stands “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, and that the government’s collapse was quicker than anticipated.
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.
“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Mr Biden said in a televised address to the nation 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.”
Mr Biden described the images coming out of Afghanistan — especially at the airport in Kabul, where Afghans descended in hopes of fleeing the country — as “gut-wrenching”.
Video of Afghans clinging to a US Air Force plane as it prepared to take off had circulated widely on the internet.
But he did not admit any US fault in how the drawdown was executed. He acknowledged that the Taliban takeover unfolded faster than had been anticipated.
About a month ago, Mr Biden batted away the notion of a rapid Taliban takeover.
Mr Biden said the US will continue to support the Afghan people, push for regional diplomacy and speak out for the rights of Afghans.
Afghans rushed onto the tarmac as thousands tried to escape after the Taliban seized power. Some clung to the side of a US military plane before take-off, in a widely shared video that captured the 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. US troops resorted to firing warning shots and using helicopters to clear a path for transport aircraft.
The Pentagon confirmed Monday that US forces shot and killed two individuals it said were armed, as Mr Biden ordered another battalion of troops — about 1,000 — to secure the airfield, which was closed to arrivals and departures for hours Monday because of civilians on the runway.
The speed of the Afghan government’s collapse and the ensuing chaos posed the most serious test of Mr Biden as commander in chief, and he came under withering criticism from Republicans who said he had failed.
Mr Biden expressed confidence in his decision to proceed with the withdrawal and said he was prepared to take the heat.
He said he was “deeply saddened by the facts we now face, but I do not regret my decision”.