Joe Biden stands 'squarely' behind decision to pull out of Afghanistan

ITV News Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo reports on Joe Biden's first public comments on Afghanistan in almost a week after the Taliban has taken hold

Joe Biden has said he stands "squarely" behind his decision to pull US troops out of Afghanistan and that America's role there "was never supposed to be nation-building".

The US president gave a defiant briefing at the White House on Monday after the Taliban swept to power in Afghanistan after US troops withdrew from the country in recent weeks. In his first public remarks on Afghanistan in nearly a week, Mr Biden said America's initial aims when entering the country 20 years ago were to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a haven for terror plots and also to "get" those responsible for 9/11.

The US president made few comments on the future of the Afghan people during his 18-minute long address.

Mr Biden said the US completed these missions a decade ago, when they killed Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

"Our mission in Afghan was never supposed to be nation-building," Mr Biden said, amid widespread criticism that a Taliban takeover means a rollback on human rights, economic gains and equality for women in Afghanistan.

Mr Biden also slammed Afghanistan's political leaders - some of whom fled the country over the weekend - and its military.

"The Afghan leaders gave up and fled, the military collapsed without trying to fight," Mr Biden said.

These responses prove that now is the right time to pull out US troops, he added.

“American soldiers should not be fighting and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves," he said.

However, Mr Biden admitted that the Afghan government’s collapse was quicker than anticipated. He also lamented the "gut-wrenching scenes" coming out of the country.

Chaos at Kabul's airport on Monday left seven people dead, senior US military officials said, including some who fell from a departing American military transport jet.

Afghans rushed on to the tarmac of the capital’s airport as thousands tried to escape after the Taliban seized power.

Some clung to the side of a US military plane before takeoff, in a widely shared video that captured the desperation as America’s 20-year war comes to a chaotic end.

Another video showed several Afghans falling as the plane gained altitude over Kabul. US troops resorted to firing warning shots and using helicopters to clear a path for transport aircraft.

The Pentagon confirmed on Monday that US forces shot and killed two individuals it said were armed, as Mr Biden ordered another 1,000 troops to Kabul to secure the airfield, which was closed to arrivals and departures for hours because of civilians on the runway.

The speed of the Afghan government’s collapse and the ensuing chaos has posed the most serious test of Mr Biden as commander-in-chief, and he came under withering criticism from Republicans who said that he had failed.

Frantic Afghans run alongside and cling onto the side of a US military plane as it begins to take off from Kabul

This video contains distressing images

Mr Biden campaigned as a seasoned expert in international relations and has spent months downplaying the prospect of an ascendant Taliban while arguing that Americans of all political persuasions have tired of a 20-year war.

He is the fourth US president to confront challenges in Afghanistan.

"The buck stops with me," he said, defending his decision not to hand America’s longest war to his successor.

Former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump also yearned to leave Afghanistan, but ultimately stood down in the face of resistance from military leaders and other political concerns. Mr Biden, on the other hand, has been steadfast in his refusal to change the August 31 deadline for the removal of US troops, in part because of his belief that the American public is on his side.

Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace. Credit: AP

A late July ABC News/Ipsos poll, for instance, showed 55% of Americans approving of Mr Biden’s handling of the troop withdrawal.

Most Republicans have not pushed Mr Biden to keep troops in Afghanistan over the long term and they also supported Mr Trump’s own push to exit the country. Still, some in the GOP stepped up their critique of Mr Biden’s withdrawal strategy and said images from Sunday of American helicopters circling the US Embassy in Kabul evoked the humiliating departure of US personnel from Vietnam.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell deemed the scenes of withdrawal as “the embarrassment of a superpower laid low.”

Senior administration officials believe the US will be able to maintain security at the Kabul airport long enough to extricate Americans and their allies, but the fate of those unable to get to the airport was far from certain.

In the upper ranks of Mr Biden’s staff, the rapid collapse in Afghanistan only confirmed the decision to leave: if the meltdown of the Afghan forces would come so quickly after nearly two decades of American presence, another six months or a year or two or more would not have changed anything.