3:03 PM PDT, August 16, 2021
Despite the gut-wrenching scenes coming out of Afghanistan as thousands of desperate Afghans continue to flee after Taliban forces seize control over Kabul, President Biden said that he continues to defend his decision to withdraw all U.S. troops as he addressed the nation on Monday afternoon.
“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said, CBS News reported. “There was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan.”
He acknowledged the “rapid collapse” in Afghanistan and criticized Afghan government leaders who fled the country. He also spoke of how Afghan troops did not properly defend their country and how their failure to do so prompted the United States to take action and move forward with the U.S. troop withdrawal, The Guardian reported.
Hours before the president addressed the nation, chaos and terror broke out as Islamic militants from the Taliban seized control of the capital. At Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport thousands of Afghans and foreign nationals were seen rushing in desperation to flee the war-torn country, nearly 20 years after they were forced out by American troops, CNN reported.
Dramatic footage showed a harrowing scene of some Afghans hanging off a US Air Force plane as it taxied down the tarmac as scores of others chase the moving aircraft. As other scenes showed women grabbing their young children in panic. One man is shown trying to hoist a young boy over the concrete wall to the airport. While another scene shows a man pulling a young girl by one of her arms up the concrete barrier, as she weeps, as two other young children are shown holding each other hands watch in despair, Reuters reported.
Amid the chaos, seven people have died. Officials said U.S troops fired the shots in the air to deter those trying to force their way onto the U.S. military flight that was carrying U.S. diplomats and embassy staff out of the city. The hoardes of people on the tarmac prompted the U.S to halt evacuation flights, according to the news outlet.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on Sunday reportedly to Tashkent, Uzbekistan as the Islamist militants swarmed his palatial home. Ghani said he fled to avoid bloodshed, CNBC reported.
“The Taliban have won with the judgment of their swords and guns, and are now responsible for the honor, property, and self-preservation of their countrymen,” Ghani said.
As the panic unfolds, the Pentagon deployed another 1,000 troops on Sunday bringing the total of U.S. troops to 6,000 in order to remove Western diplomats. On Monday, the U.S. State Department spokesperson said that all embassy personnel, including Ambassador Ross Wilson, had been transferred to Kabul airport, Reuters reported.
Suhail Shaheen, a spokesperson for the Taliban, said in a message on Twitter that their fighters were under strict orders not to harm anyone.
“Life, property, and honor of no one shall be harmed but must be protected by the mujahideen,” Shaheen said.
Shaheen said that foreign diplomats and others have no need to flee as “a secure environment will be provided for them,” and has suggested that Ghani’s “life would have been safe” had he surrendered instead of fleeing the country.
He told a BBC reporter live on air that “there will be no revenge” on the people of Afghanistan.
“We are the servants of the people and of this country,” he said.
Many Afghans are terrified that the Taliban of the 1990s, which were marked by public executions, stonings, and girls being banned from school, will return, BBC reported.
Mohammad Naeem, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, told Al Jazeera TV that “the Taliban did not want to live in isolation and called for peaceful international relations,” CNBC reported.
He also said Afghanistan’s new government would be made clear soon, the news outlet said.
During Monday’s security council meeting, Afghan Ambassador to the United Nations Ghulam M. Isaczai said “that there is no time for a blame game anymore,” and said the “UN must call for an end to violence in Afghanistan,” CNN reported.
Isaczai said he spoke on behalf of the millions of people, whose future, he said, is uncertain and whose “fate hangs in the balance,” CNN reported.
“I am speaking for millions of Afghan girls and women who are about to lose their freedom to go to school, to work, and to participate in the political, economic, and social life of the country. I am speaking for thousands of human rights defenders, journalists, academics, civil servants, and former security personnel whose lives are at risk for defending human rights and democracy. I am speaking for thousands of internally displaced people who are desperately in need of shelter, food, and protection in Kabul and other places,” Isaczai said.
In April, President Biden ordered the full withdrawal of approximately 3,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, ending the United States’ longest war estimated to cost billions. Amid criticism, President Biden defended his decision to pull out of the war. He argued that Afghan forces had to fight back against the Islamist Taliban. U.S. troops had been in Afghanistan since October 2001, after the 9/11 terror attacks, according to multiple published reports.
* This is a developing story.