Washington — President Biden returned to Washington from Camp David on Monday afternoon to address the nation for the first time since the government of Afghanistan collapsed to the Taliban, prompting afrom the capital.
“Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to be nation building. It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralized democracy,” the president said, insisting the only goal now is to engage in counter-terrorism efforts.
Mr. Biden said he “inherited” former President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by the end of May, and his only two choices were to follow through on that agreement or to escalate the conflict by sending thousands more U.S. troops to fight the Taliban.
“I stand squarely behind my decision,” the president said. “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.”
Still, the president admitted, “the truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.” Afghan leaders gave up and fled the country, and the Afghan military gave up, he said.
“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” Mr. Biden said.
On Sunday, the, the nation’s capital, and U.S. troops have been scrambling to secure the city’s airport to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies, as civilians desperately try to catch flights leaving the country.
A U.S. military official told CBS News’ David Martin that U.S. troops had killed two armed Afghans who were part of the huge crowd that breached the airport perimeter, and reports said seven people have died in total. Sources tell CBS News about 100 embassy staff are still at the airport. They are operating what remains of the embassy. Secretary of State Antony Blinken admitted on CNN Sunday that the defeat of Afghanistan forces that led to the Taliban’s takeover “happened more quickly than we anticipated,” but the Biden administration continues to stand by the president’s decision to withdraw troops.
The president has been at Camp David since Friday. While he and his aides have issued some statements and updates about the situation in Afghanistan, it will be the first time the president has addressed the topic on camera since last Tuesday. The White House says the president was briefed Monday morning by his national security team on the security situation at the airport, and ongoing efforts to evacuate Americans, U.S. Embassy personnel and local staff, special immigrant visa applicants and their families and other vulnerable Afghans.
The president has received a battlefield update and contingency planning update daily, according to a source familiar with the matter. He authorized the pre-positioning of the battalions in the theater weeks ago, in the event they would need to be deployed quickly, the source said.
Last Thursday, the president ordered the removal of most employees from the U.S. embassy in Kabul. By Sunday night, all embassy personnel had been evacuated to the airport.
In a statement Saturday, the president placed some of the blame on President Donald Trump. The former president had given a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, and Mr. Biden moved that date to the end of August.
“When I came to office, I inherited a deal cut by my predecessor — which he invited the Taliban to discuss at Camp David on the eve of 9/11 of 2019 — that left the Taliban in the strongest position militarily since 2001 and imposed a May 1, 2021 deadline on U.S. Forces,” Mr. Biden said in a statement Saturday. “Shortly before he left office, he also drew U.S. Forces down to a bare minimum of 2,500. Therefore, when I became President, I faced a choice — follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our Forces and our allies’ Forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict. I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan — two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth.”
— CBS News’ Weijia Jiang, Ed O’Keefe and Christina Ruffini contributed to this report.