Biden faces a tragedy he worked to avoid
WASHINGTON – This was exactly what President Biden feared the most.
His decision to end America’s longest war was motivated, he repeated over and over again, by his determination not to sacrifice even one more serviceman in the name of an effort. he had long believed that he was no longer in the interest of the United States.
But on Thursday morning, the withdrawal it triggered claimed the lives of 13 US soldiers, as well as scores of Afghan civilians – the first US casualties in Afghanistan in 18 months and the deadliest day for the US military since. 2011.
In searing remarks from the East Room of the White House Thursday night, Biden pledged to “hunt down” terrorists who claimed responsibility for the Kabul airport bombings, but said the evacuation unrestrained and dangerous American citizens and their allies in Afghanistan continue for several more days.
“To those who carried out this attack, as well as to all those who wish America harm on America, know this: we will not forgive,” Biden said, using language that echoed President George’s warnings. W. Bush after the terrorist attacks. September 11, 2001. “We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.
The tumultuous US exit from Afghanistan has lowered Mr. Biden’s approval ratings, and Thursday’s bombings will surely expose him to political criticism. But it was not known what the damage would be to his presidency in the long run, as he emerges from a war that most Americans also want to emerge from.
Prior to the attacks, the president’s aides said privately they did not believe there would be long-term political damage to Mr Biden, especially as the military managed to evacuate more than 100,000 people in less than two weeks. But the deaths of US servicemen – and dozens of Afghans – could cloud those calculations.
Republican critics of the president have taken hold of the bombings and vowed to hold him accountable for the consequences of his decision to withdraw his troops from Afghanistan.
“It was the direct result of horribly misguided decisions by President Biden. It demands a painful responsibility, ”said Representative John Katko of New York, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee. “Our commander-in-chief disappeared in action and failed to reach this pivotal moment in our history.”
Few Democratic lawmakers rushed to defend Mr Biden in the hours following the attacks. Instead, most expressed sorrow over the loss of life in Kabul.
“I am angered by the vile terrorist attacks at Hamid Karzai Airport,” said Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island. “The loss of life today is tragic. “
Mr Biden delivered his remarks on the bombings hours after the Pentagon confirmed suicide bombers inflicted the deadliest attack on US forces in Afghanistan in a decade. He expressed “sorrow” for what he described as “a difficult day”, and said he had asked his commanders to target ISIS-K, the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for attacks.
“We will respond with force and precision, where and when we choose,” he said.
Mr Biden praised the sacrifice of the soldiers, including 12 Marines, who lost their lives, and the 18 other US service members who were injured in the blasts, even as the military struggled to implement its decision to withdraw completely from Afghanistan. .
He pledged that the United States would fulfill its “sacred obligation” to the families of the dead in Afghanistan, calling those who died in the attacks “heroes who have embarked on a dangerous and selfless mission to save the lives of others.” .
Mr Biden said that as president he bore responsibility for “everything that happened,” but again denied that his decision to withdraw his forces by the end of the summer had inevitably leads to chaotic airport evacuation scenes, or fatalities. in the hands of terrorists.
“I had only one alternative: to send thousands of additional troops back to Afghanistan,” he said. “I never thought we should sacrifice American lives to try to establish democratic government in Afghanistan.”
But that is unlikely to satisfy his critics, including some in his own party, who disagreed with how Mr. Biden ended the war.
On Thursday morning, as news of the attacks spread, Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, called the situation in Kabul a “humanitarian crisis in its own right.” He said the Biden administration must complete the evacuation as scheduled.
Acting against the advice of his generals and ignoring some of his top foreign policy advisers, Biden announced in April his decision to withdraw the remaining 2,500 US troops from the country. The president said he did not want to call the parents of another Marine, soldier or airman killed in action in Afghanistan.
But the rapid takeover of the country by the Taliban caught the administration off guard and sparked a chaotic evacuation in which nearly 6,000 US troops attempted to secure Kabul airport against the Taliban and terrorist groups. . Earlier this week, Biden rejected calls from lawmakers, activists and other world leaders to expand the U.S. presence at the airport after August 31, citing the potential for terrorist attacks.
Since August 14, just before the Taliban took control of Kabul, the administration claims to have evacuated more than 100,000 people, putting them to safety. But administration officials concede that there are still more Americans and Afghan allies who want to leave the country.
On Thursday, Mr Biden said he still intends to meet his August 31 deadline for a full withdrawal. But he also said he would not speed up the departure because of the bombing. He said his senior military officials told him they had the resources to continue the evacuations even in the face of ongoing threats, while protecting the airport from what they expected. more attacks in the days to come.
And he said continuing the evacuation would prove to the rest of the world that “what America says matters.”
“They have made it clear that we can and we must accomplish this mission and we will do it, and that is what I have ordered them to do,” Biden said of his military advisers. “We will not be deterred by terrorists. We won’t let them stop our mission. We will continue the evacuation.
Understanding the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban emerged in 1994 amid the unrest following the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including flogging, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as leaders.
Mr Biden said the United States will continue to try to help Americans and others flee Afghanistan after the military leaves the country, in part by seeking to cooperate with the Taliban to get them out. He said the Taliban, at least for now, appeared interested in cooperating with the United States and other Western nations.
The Taliban, Biden said, are hungry for economic and other aid as they attempt to rule the country again in the coming months. This gives the United States leverage over the Taliban that could help find and evacuate Americans and other personnel, he said.
“There are a lot of reasons they have reached out, not just to us, but to others as to why it would be in their best interests to get more staff than we want out,” he said. declared.
Last week, as Mr. Biden defended the way his administration handled the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan, he vowed that “any attack on our forces or disruption of our operations at the airport will be subject to a quick and energetic response. “
As of Thursday, it was not clear whether a military response of any kind was already in the works. But military officials said US troops on the ground had the ability to retaliate while securing the airport.
General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of the US Central Command, said the military would prosecute those responsible for the attack. And Mr Biden later suggested he would not let the attack go unanswered, although he gave no time to act.
Mr Biden asked for a minute’s silence on Thursday to remember those who died.
“Each of these women and men of our armed forces is the heir to this tradition,” he said, “of sacrifice, of volunteering to run into danger, to risk everything, not for glory, not for profit, but to stand up for what we love and the people we love.
Pentagon officials described the airport bombing as a “complex attack” that included at least two explosions and gunfire by ISIS-K fighters at Americans and civilians.
Mr Biden was briefed on the worsening situation Thursday morning as he met with senior national security advisers for a regular update on the progress of the evacuation, officials said.
The bad news – punctuated online with gruesome videos of corpses outside the walls around the airport – continued throughout the day amid unconfirmed reports of further explosions near the airport. airport and a growing number of injuries and deaths, including many Afghan civilians who were desperate for a chance to evacuate.
Throughout the morning, Mr. Biden met with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and General Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Heads of State -Joint Staff, as well as other key contributors for updates. about the explosions and what they might mean for the final days of the frenzied evacuation effort underway in Afghanistan.
After news of the attacks, the president’s schedule was quickly turned upside down.
Less than 15 minutes before Mr Biden was due to meet with Naftali Bennett, Israel’s new prime minister, the White House announced that the meeting had been delayed. It was then postponed to Friday. And a meeting between Mr Biden and some of the country’s governors has been called off. The daily briefing from Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, was delayed until Mr. Biden delivered his remarks Thursday evening.