A 20-year U.S. occupation of Afghanistan that began soon after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York has ended with U.S. President Joe Biden deciding to pull out troops and citizens from the region.
The final few U.S. evacuation planes left Afghanistan Monday, with Taliban fighters celebrating and saying they now have “full independence,” according to the Associated Press.
Biden said the U.S. had planned for all situations, including the collapse of the Afghan government when its leadership fled the country, leaving the U.S. exposed, but it did not expect events to happen so quickly.
“In April I made a decision to end this war,” Biden said Tuesday. “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 wars with the Taliban. That assumption… turned out not to be accurate.”
The U.S. communicated a peaceful exit strategy with the Taliban, but attacks still hit the Kabul airport and a nearby hotel after bombings from of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), took place on August 26.
“We don’t have the luxury of being frustrated,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a briefing after the president spoke Tuesday. “I don’t think anyone assessed that they would collapse as quickly as they did. Anyone. If you have anyone who did, I’d be surprised.”
The Islamic State attacks resulted in 90 Afghan deaths, injuries to 20 Americans and 13 deaths of U.S. service members.
Of the 13 service members killed, 11 were Marines, one was an Army soldier and one a member of the Navy.
“We owe them and their families a debt of gratitude that we could never repay,” Biden said. “But we should never, ever forget.”
Soon after Biden’s remarks and calling the pullout an “extraordinary success,” Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama made remarks on the operation, calling it a “disaster” and placing blame on the president and state department.
“This disaster that we just experienced is solely the responsibility of Joe Biden,” Rogers said. “This is not a military failure. This was not a military operation. The chain of command in Afghanistan was led by the state department. When you saw us only have 600 troops in Kabul… that was a decision driven by the state department. So they own this, not the military.”
Florida Rep. Greg Steube took to Twitter Tuesday, commenting on the U.S. pullout and saying, “Never in my lifetime did I ever think America would surrender to terrorists and leave our citizens to die behind enemy lines.”
With Americans still in Afghanistan, many of which the White House said have dual citizenship and wanted to stay, Psaki said the hope is that the Taliban will honor their agreement to allow people to leave the country.
“It is not just our expectation, but also the expectation of 100 countries around the world, the U.N. security council and others, that the Taliban will abide by what they committed to last Friday, which is the ability of people to leave Afghanistan should they choose to leave,” Psaki said. “There do need to be ongoing diplomatic negotiation or discussion, I should say… but I would note that the Taliban conveyed that on Friday. More than half of the countries in the world conveyed clearly what they expect and the U.N. security council signed a resolution yesterday. Those are the diplomatic pieces that have moved forward.”
Biden said the threats of terrorist attacks continue and have expanded to other countries, adding, “our strategy has to change.”
“We all maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries,” Biden said. “We just don’t need to fight a ground war to do it. We can strike terrorist and targets without American boots on the ground.”
The president then sent a message to the Islamic State, saying, “We are not done with you yet.”
“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,” Biden said. “That’s what’s in our national interest.”