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Biden Blames Trump, Local Leaders for Collapse of Afghanistan, Defends Withdrawal Decision

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President Joe Biden says he stands “squarely behind” his decision to follow through on the peace agreement brokered by the Trump administration to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

During remarks at the White House on Monday, Biden addressed the collapse of Afghanistan’s government and the chaotic scenes unfolding at the Hamid Karzai International Airport as thousands of Afghans try to flee the country.

“When I came into office, I inherited a deal that President Trump negotiated with the Taliban,” Biden said as he noted that U.S. forces had drawn down from roughly 15,500 to 2,500, and that the Taliban was at its strongest since 2001.

He continued, “The choice I had to make, as your president, was either to follow through on that agreement, or be prepared to go back to fighting the Taliban in the middle of the spring fighting season. There would have been no cease-fire after May 1. There was no agreement protecting our forces after May 1. There was no status quo of stability without American casualties after May 1. There was only the cold reality of either following through on the agreement to withdraw our forces or escalating the conflict and sending thousands more American troops back into combat.”

“I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way, that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces,” he added.

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“The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated. So, what’s happened? Afghan political leaders gave up and left the country. The Afghan military collapsed…If anything the developments of the past week reinforced that ending military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision. 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.”

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Biden’s comments come as the Taliban stunned administration officials with its rapid advance across the country and take over of Kabul, Afghanistan, the capital, on Sunday.

In July, he expressed confidence that the Taliban would not take over the country saying, “The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told NBC News on Monday that officials were surprised by the “speed with which cities fell.”

However, he said, “At the end of the day, despite the fact that we spent 20 years and tens of billions of dollars, to give the best equipment, the best training, and the best capacity to the Afghan national security forces, we could not give them the will. And they ultimately decided that they would not fight for Kabul and they would not fight for the country.”

The collapse of the Afghan government prompted thousands of people to flee to the Hamid Karzai International Airport to try to leave the country.

On Monday, images and videos surfaced of Afghan people clinging to the sides of U.S. military planes desperate to escape. Some videos showed people falling off the planes during take-off.

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