Aug 31, 2021
Joe Biden Speech Transcript: “The War in Afghanistan is Now Over”
President Joe Biden gave remarks on the end of the war in Afghanistan and the final withdrawal of U.S. troops on August 31, 2021. Read the transcript of the full speech here.
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Joe Biden: (02:19)
Last night in Kabul, the United States ended 20 years of war in Afghanistan. The longest war in American history. We completed one of the biggest air lifts in history with more than 120,000 people evacuated to safety. That number is more than double what most experts felt were possible. No nation, no nation has ever done anything like it in all of history, and only United States had the capacity and the will and ability to do it. And we did it today.
Joe Biden: (02:55)
The extraordinary success of this mission was due to the incredible skill, bravely and selfless courage to the United States military and our diplomats and intelligence professional. For weeks, they risked their lives to get American citizens, Afghans who helped us, citizens of our allies and partners and others onboard planes and out of the country. And they did it facing a crush of enormous crowds seeking to leave the country.
Joe Biden: (03:26)
They did it knowing ISIS-K terrorists, sworn enemies of the Taliban, were lurking in the midst of those crowds. And still, the women and men of the United States military, our diplomatic corps and intelligence professionals did their job and did it well. Risking their lives, not for professional gains, but to serve others. Not in a mission of war, but in the mission of mercy.
Joe Biden: (03:56)
Twenty service members were wounded in the service of this mission, thirteen heroes gave their lives. I was just at Dover Air Force Base for the dignified transfer. We owe them and their families a debt of gratitude we can never repay, but we should never, ever, ever forget.
Joe Biden: (04:17)
In April, I made a decision to end this war. As part of that decision, we set the date of August 31st for American troops to withdraw. The assumption was that more than 300,000 Afghan National Security Forces that we had trained over the past two decades and equipped would be a strong adversary in their civil wars with the Taliban.
Joe Biden: (04:44)
That assumption that the Afghan government would be able to hold on for a period of time beyond military draw down turned out not to be accurate. But, I still instructed our National Security Team to prepare for every eventuality, even that one, and that’s what we did.
Joe Biden: (05:04)
So we were ready, when the Afghan Security Forces, after two decades of fighting for their country and losing thousands of their own, did not hold on as long as anyone expected. We were ready when they and the people of Afghanistan watched their own government collapse and the president flee amid the corruption of malfeasance, handing over the country to their enemy, the Taliban, and significantly increasing the risk to us personnel and our allies.
Joe Biden: (05:38)
As a result, to safely extract American citizens before August 31st, as well as embassy personnel, allies, and partners, and those Afghans who had worked with us and fought alongside of us for 20 years, I had authorized 6,000 troops, American troops to Kabul to help secure the airport.
Joe Biden: (06:03)
As General McKenzie said, this is the way the mission was designed. It was designed to operate under severe stress and attack and that’s what it did. Since March, we reached out 19 times to Americans in Afghanistan with multiple warnings and offers to help them leave Afghanistan. All the way back as far as March.
Joe Biden: (06:31)
After we started the evacuation 17 days ago, we did initial outreach and analysis and identified around 5,000 Americans who had decided earlier to stay in Afghanistan but now wanted to leave. Our operation Allie Rescue ended up getting more than 5,500 Americans out. We got out thousands of citizens and diplomats from those countries that went into Afghanistan with us to get bin Laden. We got out locally employed staff in the United States Embassy and their families, totalling roughly 2,500 people. We got thousands of Afghan translators and interpreters and others who supported the United States out as well.
Joe Biden: (07:23)
Now we believe that about 100 to 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan with some intention to leave. Most of those who remain are dual citizens, long time residents, but earlier decided to stay because of their family roots in Afghanistan. The bottom line, 90% of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave. And for those remaining Americans, there is no deadline. We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out.
Joe Biden: (08:02)
Secretary of State Blinken is leading the continued diplomatic efforts to ensure safe passage for any American, Afghan partner or foreign national who wants to leave Afghanistan. In fact just yesterday, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution that sent a clear message about the international community expects the Taliban to deliver on moving forward. Notably, freedom of travel, freedom to leave.
Joe Biden: (08:33)
Together we are joined by over 100 countries that are determined to make sure the Taliban upholds those commitments. It will include ongoing efforts in Afghanistan to reopen the airport as well as overland routes, allowing for continued departure for those who want to leave and deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.
Joe Biden: (08:59)
The Taliban has made public commitments broadcast on television and radio across Afghanistan on safe passage for anyone wanting to leave, including those who worked alongside Americans. We don’t take them by their word alone, but by their actions. And we have leverage to make sure those commitments are met.
Joe Biden: (09:23)
Let me be clear, leaving August the 31st is not due to an arbitrary deadline. It was designed to save American lives. My predecessor, the Former President, signed an agreement with the Taliban to remove US troops by May the first, just months after I was inaugurated. It included no requirement that the Taliban work out a cooperative governing arrangement with the Afghan government. But it did authorize the release of 5,000 prisoners last year, including some of the Taliban’s top war commanders among those who just took control of Afghanistan.
Joe Biden: (10:10)
By the time I came to office the Taliban was in it’s strongest military position since 2001, controlling or contesting nearly half of the country. The previous administration’s agreement said that if we stuck to the May 1st deadline that they had signed on to leave by, the Taliban wouldn’t attack any American forces. But if we stayed, all bets were off.
Joe Biden: (10:40)
So we were left with a simple decision, either through on the commitment made by the last administration and leave Afghanistan, or say we weren’t leaving and commit another tens of thousands more troops going back to war. That was the choice, the real choice between leaving or escalating. I was not going to extend this forever war and I was not extending a forever exit.
Joe Biden: (11:13)
The decision to end the military lift operation at that Kabul airport was based on the unanimous recommendation of my civilian and military advisors. The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint chiefs of Staff and all the Service chiefs and the commanders in the field, their recommendation was that the safest way to secure the passage of the remaining Americans and others out of the country was not to continue with 6,000 troops on the ground in harm’s way in Kabul, but rather to get them out through non-military means.
Joe Biden: (11:56)
In the 17 days that we operated in Kabul, after the Taliban seized power, we engage in an around the clock effort to provide every American the opportunity to leave. Our State Department was working 24/7 contacting and talking, and in some cases walking Americans into the airport. Again, more than 5,500 Americans were airlifted out. And for those who remain, we will make arrangements to get them out if they so choose.
Joe Biden: (12:35)
As for the Afghans, we and our partners have airlifted 100,000 of them, no country in history has done more to airlift out the residents of another country than we have done. We will continue to work to help more people leave the country who are at risk. We’re far from done.
Joe Biden: (13:00)
For now, I urge all Americans to join me in grateful prayer for our troops and diplomats and intelligence officers who carried out this mission of mercy in Kabul at a tremendous risk with such unparalleled results. An air-lift that evacuated tens of thousands. To a network of volunteers and veterans who helped identify those needing evacuation, guide them to the airport and provided them for their support along the way. We’re going to continue to need their help. We need your help and I’m looking forward to meeting with you. And to everyone who is now offering or who will offer to welcome Afghan allies to their homes around the world, including in America, we thank you.
Joe Biden: (13:59)
I take responsibility for the decision. Now some say we should have started mass evacuation sooner and, “Couldn’t this have been done in a more orderly manner?” I respectfully disagree. Imagine if we’d begun evacuations in June or July, bringing in thousands of American troops and evacuated more than 120,000 people in the middle of a civil war. There still would have been a rush to the airport, a breakdown in confidence and control of the government, and it still would have been a very difficult and dangerous mission.
Joe Biden: (14:42)
The bottom line is there is no evacuation from the end of a war that you can run without the kinds of complexities, challenge and threats we faced. None. There are those who would say we should have stayed indefinitely, for years on end. They ask, “Why don’t we just keep doing what we were doing? Why do we have to change anything?” The fact is, everything had changed.
Joe Biden: (15:16)
My predecessor had made a deal with the Taliban. When I came into office, we faced a deadline, May one. The Taliban onslaught was coming, we faced one of two choices. Follow the agreement of the previous administration, or extend to have more time for people to get out. Or send in thousands of more troops and escalate the war.
Joe Biden: (15:45)
To those asking for a third decade of war in Afghanistan I ask, “What is of vital national interest?” In my view, we only have one. To make sure Afghanistan can never be used again to launch an attack on our homeland. Remember why we went to Afghanistan in the first place, because we were attacked by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda on September 11th, 2001, and they were based in Afghanistan.
Joe Biden: (16:23)
We delivered justice to bin Laden on May 2nd, 2011 over a decade ago. Al-Qaeda was decimated. I respectfully suggest you ask yourself this question, “If we’ve been attacked on September 11th, 2001 from Yemen, instead of Afghanistan, would we have ever gone to war in Afghanistan, even though the Tali bond controlled Afghanistan in the year 2001?” I believe the honest answer is no. That’s because we had no vital interest in Afghanistan other than to prevent an attack on America’s homeland and our friends, and that’s true today.
Joe Biden: (17:13)
We succeeded in what we set out to do in Afghanistan over a decade ago, then we stayed for another decade. It was time to end this war. This is a new world. The terror threat has metastasized across the world, well beyond Afghanistan. We face threats from al-Shabab in Somalia, al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria and the Arabian Peninsula, and ISIS attempting to create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq and establishing affiliates across Africa and Asia.
Joe Biden: (17:51)
The fundamental obligation of a president, in my opinion, is to defend and protect America. Not against threats of 2001, but against the threats of 2021 and tomorrow. That is the guiding principle behind my decisions about Afghanistan. I simply do not believe that the safety and security of America is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and spending billions of dollars a year in Afghanistan. But I also know that the threat from terrorism continues in its pernicious and evil nature. But it’s changed, expanded to other countries. Our strategy has to change too.
Joe Biden: (18:43)
We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries. We just don’t need to fight a ground war to do it. We have what’s called Over The Horizon capabilities, which means we can strike terrorists and targets without American boots on the ground, or very few if needed. We’ve shown that capacity just in the last week. We struck ISIS-K remotely, days after they murdered 13 of our service members and dozens of innocent Afghans. And to ISIS-K, we are not done with you yet.
Joe Biden: (19:27)
As Commander in Chief I firmly believe the best path to guard our safety and our security lies in a tough, unforgiving, targeted, precise strategy that goes after terror where it is today, not where it was two decades ago. That’s what’s in our national interest.
Joe Biden: (19:50)
Here’s a critical thing to understand, the world is changing. We’re engaged in a serious competition with China. We’re dealing with the challenges on multiple fronts with Russia. We’re confronted with cyber attacks and nuclear proliferation. We have to shore up America’s competitiveness to meet these new challenges in the competition for the 21st century. We can do both, fight terrorism and take on new threats that are here now, and will continue to be here in the future. And there’s nothing China or Russia would rather have, would want more in this competition than the United States to be bogged down another decade in Afghanistan.
Joe Biden: (20:43)
As we turn the page on the foreign policy that has guided our nation in the last two decades, we’ve got to learn from our mistakes. To me there are two that are paramount. First, we must set missions with clear, achievable goals. Not ones we’ll never reach. And second, I want to stay clearly focused on the fundamental national security interest of the United States of America.
Joe Biden: (21:16)
This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries. We saw a mission of counter-terrorism in Afghanistan, getting the terrorist and stopping attacks, morph into a counterinsurgency, nation building, trying to create a democratic cohesive and United Afghanistan. Something that has never been done over many centuries of Afghan’s history.
Joe Biden: (21:56)
Moving on from that mindset and those kinds of large scale troop deployments will make us stronger and more effective and safer at home. And for anyone who gets the wrong idea, let me say clearly, to those who wish America harm, to those engage in terrorism against us our allies know this, the United States will never rest. We will not forgive, will not forget. We’ll hunt you down to the ends of the earth and you will pay the ultimate price.
Joe Biden: (22:35)
Let me be clear, we’ll continue to support the Afghan people through diplomacy, international influence and humanitarian aid. We’ll continue to push for regional diplomacy engagement to prevent violence and instability. We’ll continue to speak out for the basic rights of the Afghan people, especially women and girls. As we speak out for women and girls all around the globe.
Joe Biden: (23:01)
And I’ve been clear that human rights will be the center of our foreign policy, but the way to do that is not through endless military deployments, but through diplomacy, economic tools and rallying the rest of the world for support.
Joe Biden: (23:18)
My fellow Americans, the war in Afghanistan is now over. I’m the fourth president who has faced the issue of whether and when to end this war. When I was running for president, I made a commitment to the American people that I would end this war. Today, I’ve honored that commitment. It was time to be honest with the American people again.
Joe Biden: (23:47)
We no longer had a clear purpose and an open-ended mission in Afghanistan. After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, I refuse to send another generation of America’s sons and daughters to fight a war should have ended long ago. After more than $2 trillion spent in Afghanistan, a cost that researchers at Brown University estimated would be over $300 million a day for 20 years in Afghanistan, for two decades.
Joe Biden: (24:23)
Yes, the American people should hear this, $300 million a day for two decades. You could take the number of $1 trillion, as many say. That’s still $150 million a day for two decades. And what have we lost as a consequence in terms of opportunities? I refuse to continue to war that was no longer in the service of the vital national interest of our people.
Joe Biden: (24:49)
And most of all, after 800,000 Americans served in Afghanistan, I’ve traveled that whole country, brave and honorable service. After 20,744 American service men and women injured. And the loss of 2,461 American personnel, including 13 lives lost just this week. I refused to open another decade of warfare in Afghanistan.
Joe Biden: (25:22)
We’ve been a nation too long at war. If you’re 20 years old today, you’ve never known an America at peace. So when I hear that we could have, should have continued the so-called “low grade effort” in Afghanistan, at low risk to our service members, at low costs I don’t think enough people understand how much we’ve asked of the 1% of this country who put that uniform on. Willing to put their lives on the line in defense of our nation.
Joe Biden: (25:59)
Maybe it’s because my deceased son, Beau, served in Iraq for a full year. Before that… Well. Maybe it’s because of what I’ve seen over the years as Senator, Vice President and President traveling in these countries. A lot of our veterans and our families have gone through hell. Deployment after deployment, months and years away from their families, missed birthdays, anniversaries, empty chairs at holidays, financial struggles, divorces, loss of limbs, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress.
Joe Biden: (26:45)
We see it in the struggles many have when they come home. We see it in the strain on their families and caregivers. We see it in the strain in their families when they’re not there. We see it in the grief born by their survivors. The cost of war, they will carry with them their whole lives. Most tragically, we see in the shocking and stunning statistic that should give pause to anyone who thinks war can ever be low grade, low risk or low cost, 18 veterans on average who die by suicide every single day in America.
Joe Biden: (27:35)
Not in a far off place, but right here in America. There is nothing low grade or low risk or low cost about any war. It’s time to end the war in Afghanistan. As we close 20 years of war and strife and pain and sacrifice, it’s time to look at the future, not the past. To a future that’s safer, to a future that’s more secure. To a future the honors those who served and all those who gave what President Lincoln called, “Their last full measure of devotion.”
Joe Biden: (28:15)
I give you my word, with all of my heart, I believe this is the right decision, a wise decision and the best decision for America. Thank you. Thank you, and may God bless you all. And may God protect our troops.