Below is a shortened, slightly edited transcript of Biden’s speech this afternoon. He explains his decision and responds to criticism (much of the criticism coming from what can only be described as an elite media freakout). I got the transcript from Rev.com, a company that uses AI with human support to create transcripts, captions and translations:
Last night in Kabul, the United States ended 20 years of war in Afghanistan. The longest war in American history. We completed one of the biggest air lifts in history with more than 120,000 people evacuated to safety. That number is more than double what most experts felt were possible. No nation, no nation has ever done anything like it in all of history, and only the United States had the capacity and the will and ability to do it. And we did it today. . . .
In April, I made a decision to end this war. As part of that decision, we set the date of August 31st for American troops to withdraw. Since March, we reached out 19 times to Americans in Afghanistan with multiple warnings and offers to help them leave Afghanistan. All the way back as far as March.
The assumption was that more than 300,000 Afghan National Security Forces that we had trained over the past two decades and equipped would be a strong adversary in their civil war with the Taliban.
That assumption that the Afghan government would be able to hold on for a period of time . . . turned out not to be accurate. But, I still instructed our National Security Team to prepare for every eventuality, even that one, and that’s what we did.
So we were ready, when the Afghan Security Forces, after two decades of fighting for their country and losing thousands of their own, did not hold on as long as anyone expected. We were ready when they and the people of Afghanistan watched their own government collapse and the president flee . . .
As a result, to safely extract American citizens before August 31st, as well as embassy personnel, allies, and partners, and those Afghans who had worked with us and fought alongside of us for 20 years, I had authorized 6,000 troops, American troops to Kabul to help secure the airport.
As General McKenzie said, this is the way the mission was designed. It was designed to operate under severe stress and attack and that’s what it did.
After we started the evacuation 17 days ago, we did initial outreach and analysis and identified around 5,000 Americans who had decided earlier to stay in Afghanistan but now wanted to leave. Our operation ended up getting more than 5,500 Americans out. We got out thousands of citizens and diplomats from those countries that went into Afghanistan with us to get bin Laden. We got out locally employed staff in the United States Embassy and their families, totalling roughly 2,500 people. We got thousands of Afghan translators and interpreters and others who supported the United States out as well.
Now we believe that about 100 to 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan with some intention to leave. Most of those who remain are dual citizens, long time residents, who earlier decided to stay because of their family roots in Afghanistan. The bottom line, 90% of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave. And for those remaining Americans, there is no deadline. We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out.
Secretary of State Blinken is leading the continued diplomatic efforts to ensure safe passage for any American, Afghan partner or foreign national who wants to leave Afghanistan. . . .
We are joined by over 100 countries that are determined to make sure the Taliban upholds those commitments. It will include ongoing efforts in Afghanistan to reopen the airport as well as overland routes, allowing for continued departure for those who want to leave and to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.
The Taliban has made public commitments broadcast on television and radio across Afghanistan on safe passage for anyone wanting to leave, including those who worked alongside Americans. We don’t take them by their word alone, but by their actions. And we have leverage to make sure those commitments are met.
Let me be clear, leaving August the 31st is not due to an arbitrary deadline. It was designed to save American lives. My predecessor signed an agreement with the Taliban to remove US troops by May 1st, just months after I was inaugurated. It included no requirement that the Taliban work out a cooperative governing arrangement with the Afghan government. But it did authorize the release of 5,000 prisoners last year, including some of the Taliban’s top war commanders . . .
By the time I came to office the Taliban was in its strongest military position since 2001, controlling or contesting nearly half of the country. The previous administration’s agreement said that if we stuck to the May 1st deadline, the Taliban wouldn’t attack any American forces. But if we stayed, all bets were off. [Note: the previous president had reduced the number of American troops in the country to 2,500.]
So we were left with a simple decision, either follow through on the commitment made by the last administration and leave Afghanistan, or say we weren’t leaving and commit thousands more troops going back to war. That was the choice, the real choice between leaving or escalating. . . .
The decision to end the military operation at the Kabul airport was based on the unanimous recommendation of my civilian and military advisors. The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint chiefs of Staff and all the service chiefs and the commanders in the field, their recommendation was that the safest way to secure the passage of the remaining Americans and others out of the country was not to continue with 6,000 troops on the ground in harm’s way in Kabul, but rather to get them out through non-military means.
In the 17 days that we operated in Kabul, after the Taliban seized power, we engage in an around the clock effort to provide every American the opportunity to leave. Our State Department was working 24/7 contacting and talking, and in some cases walking Americans into the airport. Again, more than 5,500 Americans were airlifted out. And for those who remain, we will make arrangements to get them out if they so choose.
As for the Afghans, we and our partners have airlifted 100,000 of them, no country in history has done more to airlift out the residents of another country than we have done. We will continue to work to help more people leave the country who are at risk. We’re far from done. . . .
I take responsibility for the decision. Now some say we should have started mass evacuation sooner and “Couldn’t this have been done in a more orderly manner?” I respectfully disagree. Imagine if we’d begun evacuations in June or July, bringing in thousands of American troops and evacuated more than 120,000 people in the middle of a civil war. There would still have been a rush to the airport, a breakdown in confidence and control of the government, and it would still have been a very difficult and dangerous mission.
The bottom line is there is no evacuation from the end of a war that you can run without the kinds of complexities, challenge and threats we faced. None. There are those who would say we should have stayed indefinitely, for years on end. They ask, “Why don’t we just keep doing what we were doing? Why do we have to change anything?”
[But] this is a new world. The terror threat has metastasized across the world, well beyond Afghanistan.
The fundamental obligation of a president, in my opinion, is to defend and protect America. Not against threats of 2001, but against the threats of 2021 and tomorrow. . . . I simply do not believe that the safety and security of America is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and spending billions of dollars a year in Afghanistan.
But I also know that the threat from terrorism [has] changed, expanded to other countries. Our strategy has to change too. . . . As Commander in Chief, I firmly believe the best path to guard our safety and our security lies in a tough, unforgiving, targeted, precise strategy that goes after terror where it is today, not where it was two decades ago. That’s what’s in our national interest.
Here’s a critical thing to understand, the world is changing. We’re engaged in a serious competition with China. We’re dealing with the challenges on multiple fronts with Russia. We’re confronted with cyber attacks and nuclear proliferation. We have to shore up America’s competitiveness to meet these new challenges in the competition for the 21st century. . . .
As we turn the page on the foreign policy that has guided our nation in the last two decades, we’ve got to learn from our mistakes. To me there are two that are paramount. First, we must set missions with clear, achievable goals. Not ones we’ll never reach. And second, I want to stay clearly focused on the fundamental national security interest of the United States of America.
This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries. We saw a mission of counter-terrorism in Afghanistan . . . morph into a counter-insurgency, nation-building, trying to create a democratic, cohesive and united Afghanistan, something that has never been done over centuries of their history.
Moving on from that mindset and those kinds of large scale troop deployments will make us stronger and more effective and safer at home. . . .
My fellow Americans, the war in Afghanistan is now over. I’m the fourth president who has faced the issue of whether and when to end this war. When I was running for president, I made a commitment to the American people that I would end this war. Today, I’ve honored that commitment. It was time to be honest with the American people again. . . .
After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, I refuse to send another generation of America’s sons and daughters to fight a war that should have ended long ago. After more than $2 trillion spent in Afghanistan, a cost that researchers at Brown University estimated was over $300 million a day . . . for two decades. . . . You could take the number of $1 trillion, as many say. That’s still $150 million a day for two decades. And what have we lost as a consequence in terms of opportunities?
. . . And most of all, after 800,000 Americans served in Afghanistan . . . After 20,744 American service men and women injured. And the loss of 2,461 American personnel, including 13 lives lost just this week. . . .
So when I hear that we could have, should have, continued the so-called “low grade effort” in Afghanistan, at low risk to our service members, at low costs, I don’t think enough people understand how much we’ve asked of the 1% of this country who put that uniform on. . . . A lot of our veterans and our families have gone through hell. Deployment after deployment, months and years away from their families, . . . financial struggles, divorces, loss of limbs, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress. . . .
There is nothing low grade or low risk or low cost about any war. . . . As we close 20 years of war and strife and pain and sacrifice, it’s time to look at the future, not the past. To a future that’s safer, to a future that’s more secure. To a future the honors those who served and all those who gave what President Lincoln called, “Their last full measure of devotion.”
I give you my word, with all of my heart, I believe this is the right decision, a wise decision and the best decision for America. . . .