Biden adds forces for Afghanistan evacuation, defends withdrawal decision

Taleban fighters patrol the streets of Herat on Aug 14, 2021.
Taleban fighters patrol the streets of Herat on Aug 14, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US President Joe Biden said on Saturday (Aug 14) that he had approved additional military forces to go to Kabul to help safely draw down the American embassy and remove personnel from Afghanistan.

In a lengthy statement, Biden defended his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, arguing that Afghan forces had to fight back against Taleban forces sweeping through the country.

“Based on the recommendations of our diplomatic, military and intelligence teams, I have authorised the deployment of approximately 5,000 US troops to make sure we can have an orderly and safe drawdown of US personnel and other allied personnel,” Biden said.

The troops will also support evacuation of some Afghans going through a special visa programme.

A US defence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said of the 5,000 Biden announced, 4,000 were already previously announced. About 1,000 were newly approved and would be from the 82nd airborne division.

Biden said that his administration had told Taleban officials in Qatar that an action that put US personnel at risk, “will be met with a swift and strong US military response.”

But he also said a indefinite US military presence was not an option.

“One more year, or five more years, of US military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country. And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me,” Biden added.

Biden has set a formal end to the US military mission in Afghanistan for Aug 31 as he looks to disengage from a conflict that started after Al-Qaeda attacked the United States on Sept 11, 2001.

Biden’s move on Saturday came amid growing pressure to adjust a withdrawal plan that is generating some of the harshest criticism of his six months in office.

A tweet from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham reflected some of the criticism: “If President Biden truly has no regrets about his decision to withdraw, then he is disconnected from reality when it comes to Afghanistan.”

The Taleban have swept through much of Afghanistan, capturing a major city in northern Afghanistan on Saturday and drawing closer to Kabul, where Western countries scrambled to evacuate their citizens from the capital.