President Joe Biden’s pledge to renew America’s standing on the world stage is in jeopardy as international leaders are expressing outrage over his rushed withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, leading to the quick collapse of Kabul and the rise of Taliban military rule.
“I’m sending a clear message to the world, America is back, the transatlantic alliance is back and we’re not looking backward, we’re looking forward together,” Biden declared earlier this year in a virtual address to the annual Munich Security Conference.
Now, both critics and allies of the U.S. are slamming Biden for abruptly ending its 20-year North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) campaign in Afghanistan, endangering allied nationals as well as friendly Afghans throughout the country as the Taliban gains control.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was quick to criticize Biden’s decision to terminate the NATO operation, saying on Monday that German troops, which made up the largest continent of military presence after the U.S., would have stayed in the country if Americans remained and that “domestic political reasons” contributed to Biden’s decision.
“Since the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan we have had to watch the Taliban, with breathtaking speed, province for province, town for town, reconquer the entire country. This is an absolutely bitter development: Bitter, dramatic and awful, especially for the people in Afghanistan,” said Merkel.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was “fair to say the U.S. decision to pull out has accelerated things,” but continued to urge Western leaders to work together to stem the rise of terrorist groups in the region.
Johnson has also come under fire from members of his own Parliament, who are angry at the decision by Biden and Johnson to remove troops.
Tom Tugendhat, a conservative member of Parliament who chairs the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and served in Afghanistan, went further and slammed Biden, saying, “To see [Biden] call into question the courage of men I fought with, to claim that they ran, is shameful. Those who have never fought for the colors they fly should be careful about criticizing those who have.”
U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace warned that due to the Taliban’s quick advance, “some people will not get back.” He also said last week that the violent terrorist organization Al Qaeda is likely to reinstate its presence in the region once foreign troops are gone and could pose a direct threat to Western countries.
Wallace appeared to break down in an interview earlier this week, saying “it’s sad that the West has done what it’s done,” referring to leaving civilians behind in Afghanistan.
Dutch Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag told Parliament that she, along with the rest of the international community, was surprised at the Taliban’s quick advance, which left embassy staff off guard with no time to alert their Afghan partners.
A spokeswoman for the Dutch foreign ministry told the BBC that embassy staff were “woken up by the U.S. military and were asked to leave for the airport urgently so they had no time at all to warn local staff.” A similar situation reportedly unfolded for Swedish embassy staff who had to quickly evacuate the country.
The criticism by America’s strongest allies was echoed by fierce disapproval from its foes, including China and Russia.
Moscow has said the U.S. mission in Afghanistan has failed, and Beijing has called the lightning speed withdrawal from Afghanistan a failure of leadership.
Merkel and Johnson are the only two confirmed world leaders Biden has talked to since the fall of Kabul. National security adviser Jake Sullivan revealed on Tuesday that the president had not yet spoken to any allies as the Taliban gained control of the country, sparking additional backlash against Biden.
During their conversation Tuesday evening, Johnson and Biden discussed the “need for continued close coordination among allies and democratic partners,” and agreed to hold a G7 leaders’ meeting next week to discuss their approach to the situation in Afghanistan.
The U.S. resumed rescue flights out of Afghanistan on Tuesday, after an estimated 10,000 American citizens were left behind as the Taliban gained control of the Kabul airport.
Biden has since warned the Taliban that any threat to the U.S. mission will be met with a swift response.