WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Tuesday mounted a fierce defense of pulling troops from Afghanistan as the “best decision for America,” a day after the Taliban celebrated when the last US soldier left the war-ravaged country.
“This is the right decision. A wise decision. And the best decision for America,” Biden said in an address to the nation in Washington after he stuck to an August 31 deadline to end two decades of bloodshed that began and ended with the Taliban in power.
He spoke after the United Nations warned of a looming “humanitarian catastrophe” in Afghanistan, underscoring the daunting challenges that the victorious Taliban face as they transform from insurgent group to governing power.
For America, Biden argued, the only choice in Afghanistan was “leaving or escalating.”
He said Washington would continue to target militants who posed a threat to the United States, but would no longer use its military to try to build democratic societies in places that had never had them.
“This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries,” he said.
And the president, whose critics have savaged him for his handling of the withdrawal, said the frenzied airlift — which saw the United States and its allies fly more than 120,000 people fleeing the new Taliban regime out of Afghanistan — was an “extraordinary success.”
“No nation has ever done anything like it in all of history; only the United States had the capacity and the will and ability to do it,” he said.
The Taliban also saw the airlift as a success: a mark of their astonishing comeback and defeat of a global superpower.
Taliban fighters fired weapons into the sky in Kabul in the early hours of Tuesday in jubilation after the last US plane flew out. Later, they swept into the capital’s vast airport.
“Congratulations to Afghanistan… this victory belongs to us all,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters hours later on the airport runway.
Mujahid said the Taliban’s victory was a “lesson for other invaders”.
In Kandahar, the spiritual birthplace of the movement and the country’s second-largest city, thousands of celebrating supporters swept onto the streets.