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Biden says he stands 'squarely behind decision' to withdraw from Afghanistan

International reaction to the Taliban’s swift takeover has been coming in throughout today.

Joe Biden
Joe Biden
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Aug 16th 2021, 9:24 PM

US PRESIDENT JOE Biden defended the US pullout of Afghanistan this evening, saying he stood by the policy and that it was time to leave after 20 years of conflict.

“I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces,” he said in a televised address from the White House.

He added that the US national interest in Afghanistan was always principally about preventing terrorist attacks from the war-torn nation on the US homeland.

“The mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to be nation-building,” he said. 

He also laid the blame at the feet of the Afghan military and the political leaders in the country. 

Biden acknowledged that the Afghan government collapsed more quickly than he expected even as he defended his decision to withdraw troops.

“I always promised the American people that I will be straight with you. The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated,” Biden said in a national address.

“We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We could not provide them with the will to fight for that future.”

 Meanwhile, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres has called on the world to work together to “suppress the global terrorist threat in Afghanistan” after the Taliban took control of the war-torn country.

A meeting of the UN this afternoon was hastily convened at its headquarters in New York after Taliban militants entered the capital Kabul on Sunday, leading Afghan president Ashraf Ghani to flee abroad.

“The international community must unite to make sure that Afghanistan is never again used as a platform or safe haven for terrorist organisations,” Guterres told an emergency UN Security Council meeting.

“I appeal to the Security Council — and the international community as a whole — to stand together, to work together and act together,” Guterres added.

He urged nations to “use all tools at its disposal to suppress the global terrorist threat in Afghanistan and to guarantee that basic human rights will be respected.”

Guterres’ comments came as victorious Taliban fighters patrolled Kabul after a swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war.

Thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to flee the group’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule.

Guterres said Afghans “deserve our full support.”

“The following days will be pivotal,” he said. “The world is watching. We cannot and must not abandon the people of Afghanistan.”

The secretary-general urged the international community to “speak with one voice to uphold human rights in Afghanistan.”

He said it was “essential that the hard-won rights of Afghan women and girls are protected.”

Guterres also called upon the Taliban “to respect and protect international humanitarian law and the rights and freedoms of all persons.”

A statement from the UN Security Council this evening called for the “immediate cessation” of all hostilities in the country. 

It also called for the ”establishment, through inclusive negotiations, of a new government that is united, inclusive and representative – including with the full, equal and meaningful participation of women.”

It was a call echoed by Taoiseach Micheál Martin this afternoon who said the Taliban should show restraint and uphold international law as it emerged Ireland is to accept between 100-150 Afghan refugees in the coming days.

In a statement released this afternoon, Martin said he was “deeply concerned” by the ongoing situation in the country and that the pace of developments there has taken many by surprise.

“I fully endorse the call from UN Secretary-General António Guterres for the Taliban to exercise the utmost restraint.  Protecting lives, meeting humanitarian needs and respecting people’s human rights are paramount.

“All parties, including the Taliban, are obliged to, and must, respect international humanitarian law.”

Meanwhile, Afghans trying to flee the Taliban takeover clung to an American plane as it prepared to take off from Kabul airport, as thousands of people desperately searched for a flight out of the country.

US troops fired shots into the air and all commercial flights were cancelled as chaos broke out on the tarmac.

Dramatic footage posted on social media shows hundreds of men running alongside a US Air Force plane as it rolls down the runway, with some clinging to the side of it.

Other videos appear to show people falling from the aircraft as it gains altitude.  

In other videos, civilians frantically clamber up an already overcrowded and buckling set of airstairs to reach a commercial airliner. 

Crowds watched on, as those who successfully climbed the stairs helped others up, while some hung from the stair railings by their hands.

Senior US military officials said the chaos at the Kabul airport this morning left seven people dead.

Reacting to the Taliban’s takeover, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said today that the United States had decided to withdraw from Afghanistan partly because of domestic political reasons.

At a meeting with her CDU-CSU party leadership, Merkel said NATO’s decision to pull out after almost two decades of deployment was “ultimately made by the Americans”, and that “domestic political reasons” were partly to blame.

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“We have always said, if the Americans stay, we will also stay,” she said, according to participants at the meeting.

“The troop withdrawal sparked a domino effect” that culminated in the Taliban sweeping back into power, said Merkel.

“For the many who have built on the progress and freedom especially women – these are bitter events,” she said.

Efforts must now be focused on evacuating German nationals as well as Afghans who had worked with the Germans or who are in danger from the Taliban, she said.

Berlin estimates that 2,500 local employees who worked with German troops or at the embassy, as well as their family members, need to be evacuated from the country.

Another 2,000 Afghans, such as human rights activists or employees of non-governmental organisations, also need to be brought out of the country. The number swells to 10,000 if their family members are included.

Beyond these groups, many others will seek to leave Afghanistan, said Merkel.

“We must do everything we can to help neighbouring countries to support the refugees,” she said, according to the sources.

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