Home >Politics >Policy >Biden defends Afghan pullout, sets evacuation for translators

WASHINGTON : President Biden said the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan is on track to end on Aug. 31, arguing that the U.S. had achieved the objectives it set out two decades ago and adding that his administration would move thousands of potentially endangered Afghan interpreters out of the country next month.

Mr. Biden’s comments came as the insurgent Taliban movement has taken over a third of the country in the face of a crumbling Afghan military, while U.S. military officers predict a possible civil war and intelligence officials say the Afghan government could fall in as little as six months.

Nonetheless, Mr. Biden offered a fulsome defense during comments Thursday at the White House about his decision in April to pull out U.S. troops since he announced the withdrawal plan in April.

“We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build. It’s the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country," Mr. Biden said, making the case that the U.S. had degraded the terrorist threat in Afghanistan.

Noting the more than 2,000 American deaths during the war, Mr. Biden said it was time to leave. “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no expectation to achieve a different outcome," he said.

The Taliban has taken over large swaths of the country and confiscated U.S. military equipment left behind for their Afghan partners. And the Afghans have complained of the U.S. handover of its largest military base, known as Bagram.

Mr. Biden said his remarks shouldn’t be interpreted as a “mission accomplished" moment, a reference to a banner that hung behind then-President George W. Bush during a 2003 speech when he proclaimed the U.S. had prevailed in Iraq. “The mission was accomplished in that we got Osama bin Laden and terrorism is not emanating from that part of the world," Mr. Biden said.

But he appeared to acknowledge that the future of Afghanistan was uncertain. “The mission hasn’t failed—yet," he said.

Mr. Biden expressed confidence that Afghan forces can counter the rise of the Taliban in the country. Asked if a Taliban takeover was inevitable, Mr. Biden said, “No, it is not," adding, “I trust the capacity of the Afghan military."

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.) called on the Biden administration to put in place a clear plan to advance the rights of women in the country and protect translators and other allies of the U.S. in Afghanistan.

“I’m very encouraged by President Biden’s efforts to get our Afghan allies out of harm’s way, but I remain deeply concerned by the deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan," she said. “Sadly, this follows a trajectory that I feared: a resurgence of the Taliban and direct threats to communities vulnerable to their violence and oppression."

The president said the U.S. would conduct flights in August to relocate translators and other Afghan allies of the U.S.

The administration has yet to determine where translators would be moved while they await approval to enter the U.S. “It is likely to be a mix of third countries and U.S. territory," a senior administration official said. “For now this is very much in progress."

Among countries the U.S. is considering are Qatar and the United Arab Emirates as well as Guam, officials said. The translators moved out of Afghanistan could be in those countries for years as they await a valid U.S. visa.

Officials estimated the number of Afghans who assisted the U.S. and who need to be evacuated at between 9,000 and 16,000.

In recent weeks, the Taliban has taken over scores of districts, with control of roughly one third of the country. And while on average two translators have been killed each month this year, there are no clear indications that the Taliban is targeting translators in districts they have overrun.

In a statement released last month, the Taliban said translators who showed “remorse for their past actions" would be allowed to live safely within Afghanistan.

“If they are using ‘danger’ as an excuse to bolster their fake asylum case, then that is their own problem and not that of the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate," the statement said.

In the face of Taliban gains on the ground, the Biden administration has promised modest help for the Afghan military. During President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Washington last month, the U.S. promised to provide Afghanistan with about three dozen Black Hawk helicopters and a small number of A-29 Super Tucano aircraft to boost its beleaguered forces, a U.S. official said.

Mr. Biden’s remarks from the White House on Thursday come days after the U.S. military withdrew from Bagram Air Base, the centerpiece of American military operations in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years.

He met earlier Thursday with his national security advisers to receive an update on the withdrawal.

Mr. Biden decided in April to remove all American forces from Afghanistan except for about 650 troops at the Kabul airport and the U.S. Embassy. All other forces will depart Afghanistan by the end of August, Pentagon officials said.

A longtime critic of the war effort, Mr. Biden has argued that there is no longer a reason for forces to remain in the country, saying the U.S. had achieved its goal of preventing attacks on the nation from being planned in Afghanistan. He recently said that a “rational drawdown with our allies" was under way, adding that he thought Afghans had the capacity to maintain the government.

In recent weeks, Afghan soldiers have handed over their weapons and Humvees to the Taliban, who now surround several major cities. A recent U.S. intelligence assessment concluded that Kabul could fall to the Taliban as soon as six months after the U.S. military pullout is completed this summer.

Gen. Scott Miller, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has warned of the potential for a civil war in the country following the departure of U.S. forces.

Catherine Lucey and Michael R. Gordon contributed to this article.

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