President Biden on Thursday said “there’s no mission accomplished” as US troops depart Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of war, but he also insisted that “the mission hasn’t failed — yet.”
Biden gave the dim assessment as he rejected comparisons to the US pullout from South Vietnam — brushing off the possibility that the Taliban will restore their Islamic fundamentalist rule after a series of military victories.
“The Taliban is at its strongest militarily since 2001,” Biden said in remarks in the White House East Room. But he added, “The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”
Biden said the US must “fight the battles of the next 20 years, not the last 20 years.”
But Biden’s framing of whether the US accomplished its objectives in Afghanistan varied as he took reporters’ questions.
“The mission was accomplished in that we got Osama bin Laden and terrorism is not emanating from that part of the world,” Biden said.
But when asked about corruption impeding the mission, Biden said, “First of all, the mission hasn’t failed — yet. There is in Afghanistan, in all parties, there’s been corruption. The question is, can there be an agreement on unity of purpose?”
US troops will be out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31, Biden said. That date avoids the awkward timing of removing troops around the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The White House hasn’t disclosed plans if the country does fall again to the Taliban.
Biden insisted that the US would work to relocate Afghan citizens who helped the US military with translation, though he said some may have to locate to a third country temporarily. “Our message to those women and men is clear: There is a home for you in the United States, if you so choose,” he said.
He also insisted that there won’t be a humiliating capitulation in Kabul that results in an iconic moment of American defeat akin to the 1975 fall of Saigon in South Vietnam.
“The Taliban is not the North Vietnamese army. They’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There’s gonna be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States from Afghanistan,” Biden said.
Biden said the US needs “to focus on shoring up America’s core strengths to meet the strategic competition with China and other nations that is really going to determine our future. We have to defeat COVID-19 at home and around the world, make sure we’re better prepared for the next pandemic or biological threat. We need to establish international norms for cyberspace and the use of emerging technologies. We need to take concerted action to fight existential threats of climate change.”
The president emphasized the length of the conflict in his defense of withdrawal.
“Already we have members of our military whose parents fought in Afghanistan 20 years ago. Would you send their children and their grandchildren as well? Would you send your own son or daughter?” he said.
“After 20 years, $1 trillion spent training and equipping hundreds of thousands of Afghan national security and defense forces, 2,448 Americans killed, 20,722 more wounded and untold thousands coming home with unseen trauma to their mental health. I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.”
The Afghan military is widely regarded as corrupt and inept and has suffered a humiliating series of recent defeats. The US military handed over Bagram Airfield near Kabul last week, but due to poor communication, looters made off with much of the supplies meant for Afghan troops.