Jul 8, 2021
Joe Biden Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan Speech Briefing Transcript
President Joe Biden gave a speech on July 8, 2021 to discuss the plan to remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan by August 31. Read the transcript of the briefing remarks here.
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President Joe Biden: (00:41)
Good afternoon. Earlier today, I was briefed by our senior military and national security leaders on the status of the draw down of US forces and allied forces in Afghanistan. When I announced our draw down in April, I said we would be out by September and we’re on track to meet that target. Our military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on August 31st. The draw down is proceeding in a secure and orderly way, prioritizing the safety of our troops as they depart. Our military commanders advised me that once I made the decision to end the war, we needed to move swiftly to conduct the main elements of the draw down. And in this context, speed is safety, and thanks to the way in which we have managed our withdrawal, no one, no one US forces or any forces have been lost. Conducting our draw down differently would have certainly come with a increased risk of safety to our personnel.
President Joe Biden: (01:44)
To me, those risks were unacceptable and there was never any doubt that our military performed this task efficiently and with the highest level of professionalism. That’s what they do. And the same is true of our NATO allies and partners who have supported … we are supporting and supporting us as well as they conclude their retro grade.
President Joe Biden: (02:08)
I want to be clear. The US military mission in Afghanistan continues through the end of August. We retain personnel and capacities in the country, and we maintain the same authority under which we’ve been operating for some time. As I said in April, the United States did what we went to do in Afghanistan, to get the terrorists who attacked us on 911, and deliver justice to Osama bin Laden, and to degrade the terrorist threat to keep Afghanistan from becoming a base from which attacks could be continued against the United States. We achieved those objectives. That’s why we went.
President Joe Biden: (02:50)
We did not go to Afghanistan to nation build, and it’s the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country. Together with our NATO allies and partners, we have trained and equipped nearly 300,000 current serving members of the military, the Afghan National Security Force, and many beyond that who are no longer serving.
President Joe Biden: (03:18)
Add to that, hundreds of thousands more Afghan national defense and security forces trained over the last two decades. We provided our Afghan partners with all the tools. Let me emphasize, all the tools, training equipment of any modern military. We provided advanced weaponry, and we’re going to continue to provide funding and equipment, and we’ll ensure they have the capacity to maintain their air force.
President Joe Biden: (03:44)
But most critically, as I stressed in my meeting just two weeks ago with President Ghani and Chairman Abdullah, Afghan leaders have to come together and drive toward a future that the Afghan people want and they deserve. In our meeting, I also assured Ghani that US support for the people of Afghanistan will endure. We will continue to provide civilian and humanitarian assistance, including speaking out for the rights of women and girls.
President Joe Biden: (04:15)
I intend to maintain our diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, and we are coordinating closely with our international partners in order to continue to secure the international airport. And we’re going to engage in a determined diplomacy to pursue peace and a peace agreement that will end this senseless violence. I’ve asked Secretary of State Blinken and our Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation to work vigorously with the parties in Afghanistan, as well as the regional and international stakeholders to support a negotiated solution.
President Joe Biden: (04:48)
To be clear, to be clear countries in the region have an essential role to play in supporting a peaceful settlement, we’ll work with them and they should help step up their efforts as well. We’re going to continue to work for the release of detained Americans, including Mark Frerichs, I want to pronounce the name correctly. I misspoke. So that he can return to his family safely.
President Joe Biden: (05:17)
We’re also going to continue to make sure that we take on the Afghan nationals who work side by side with US forces, including interpreters and translators, since we’re no longer going to have military there after this. We’re not going to need them, and they have no jobs. They’ve been very vital to our efforts, and so their families are not exposed to danger as well.
President Joe Biden: (05:40)
We’ve already dramatically accelerated the procedure time for special immigrant visas to bring them to the United States. Since I was inaugurated in January 20th, we’ve already approved 2,500 special immigrant visas to come to the United States. Up to now, fewer than half have exercised the right to do that. Half have gotten on aircraft and commercial flights and come, another half believe they want to stay, at least thus far.
President Joe Biden: (06:09)
Working closely with Congress to change the authorization legislation so that we can streamline the process of approving those visas. And those who have stood up for the operation to physically relocate thousands of Afghans in their families before the US military mission concludes so that if they choose, they can wait safely outside of Afghanistan while their US visas are being processed.
President Joe Biden: (06:33)
The operation has identified US facilities outside the continental United States, as well as in third countries to host our Afghan allies, if they so choose. And starting this month, we’re going to begin relocation flights for Afghanistan SIV applicants, and their families who choose to leave. We have a point person in the White House and at the State Department led task force coordinating all these efforts. But our message to those women and men is clear. There is a home for you in the United States, if you so choose, and we will stand with you just as you stood with us.
President Joe Biden: (07:18)
When I made the decision to end the US military involvement in Afghanistan, I judged that it was not in the national interest of the United States of America to continue fighting this war indefinitely. I made the decision with clear eyes, and I’m briefed daily on the battlefield updates. But for those who have argued that we should stay to six more months or just one more year, I ask them to consider the lessons of recent history. In 2011 our NATO allies and partners agreed that we would end our combat mission in 2014. In 2014, some argued one more year. So we kept fighting and I kept taking casualties. In 2015, the same. And on and on. Nearly 20 years of experience has shown us that the current security situation only confirms that just one more year fighting Afghanistan is not a solution, but a recipe for being there indefinitely. It’s up to the Afghans to make the decision about the future of their country.
President Joe Biden: (08:22)
Others are more direct. Their argument is that we should stay in Afghanistan indefinitely. In doing so, they point to the fact that we have not taken losses in this last year. So they claim that the cost of just maintaining the status quo is minimal, but that ignores the reality and the facts that already presented on the ground in Afghanistan when I took office. The Taliban is at its strongest militarily since 2001. The number of US forces in Afghanistan had been reduced to a bare minimum. And the United States in the last administration made an agreement with the Taliban to remove all our forces by May 1st of this year. That’s what I inherited.
President Joe Biden: (09:11)
That agreement was the reason the Taliban had ceased major attacks against US forces. If in April, I had instead announced that the United States was going back on that agreement made by the last administration, the United States and allied forces to remain in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, the Taliban would have again begun to target our forces. The status quo was not an option. Staying would have meant US troops taking casualties, American men and women back in the middle of a civil war. And we would run the risk of having to send more troops back into Afghanistan to defend our remaining troops. Once that agreement with the Taliban had been made, staying with a bare minimum force was no longer possible. So let me ask those who want us to stay, how many more, how many thousands more Americans, daughters, and sons are you willing to risk? How long would you have them stay?
President Joe Biden: (10:12)
Already, we have members of our military whose parents fought in Afghanistan 20 years ago. Would you send their children and their grandchildren as well? Would you send your own son or daughter? After 20 years, $1 trillion spent training and equipping hundreds of thousands of Afghan National Security and Defense Forces, 2,448 Americans killed, 20,722 more wounded and untold thousands coming home with unseen trauma to their mental health. I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.
President Joe Biden: (11:00)
The United States cannot afford to remain tethered to policies, creating a response to a world as it was 20 years ago. We need to meet the threats where they are today. Today, the terrorist threat has metastasized beyond Afghanistan. So we are positioning our resources and adapting our counter-terrorism posture to meet the threats where they are now, significantly higher in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
President Joe Biden: (11:31)
But make no mistake, our military and intelligence leaders are confident they have the capabilities to protect the Homeland and our interests from any resurgent terrorist challenge emerging or emanating from Afghanistan. We’re developing a counter terrorism over the horizon capability that will allow us to our eyes firmly fixed on any direct threats to the United States in the region and act quickly and decisively if needed.
President Joe Biden: (12:01)
We also need to focus on shoring up America’s core strengths to meet the strategic competition with China and other nations that is really going to determine our future. We have to defeat COVID-19 at home and around the world. Make sure we’re better prepared for the next pandemic or biological threat. We need to establish international norms for cyberspace and the use of emerging technologies. We need to take concerted action to fight existential threats of climate change, and we will be more formidable to our adversaries and competitors over the long run if we fight the battles of the next 20 years, not the last 20 years.
President Joe Biden: (12:46)
Finally, I want to recognize the incredible sacrifice and dedication at the US military and civilian personnel, serving alongside our allies and partners, have made over the last two decades in Afghanistan. I want to honor the significance of what they’ve accomplished and the great personal risk they encountered at incredible cost to their families, pursuing the terrorist threat in some of the most unforgiving terrain on the planet, I’ve been almost throughout that entire country, ensuring there hasn’t been another attack on the Homeland from Afghanistan for the last 20 years, taking out Bin Laden.
President Joe Biden: (13:30)
I want to thank you all for your service and the dedication to the mission so many of you had given, and to the sacrifices that you and your families have made over the long course of this war. We’ll never forget those who gave the last full measure of devotion for their country in Afghanistan, nor are those whose lives have been immeasurably altered by wounds sustained in the service of their country. We’re ending America’s longest war, but we’ll always, always honor the bravery of the American Patriots who served in it. God bless you all. And may God protect our troops. Thank you.
Speaker 3: (14:15)
[crosstalk 00:14:15] Do you trust the Taliban, Mr. President? [crosstalk 00:14:21]
Speaker 4: (14:20)
Sorry, sorry. Is a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan now inevitable?
President Joe Biden: (14:24)
No, it is not.
Speaker 4: (14:26)
President Joe Biden: (14:27)
Because you have the Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped, as well-equipped as any army in the world, and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable.
Speaker 5: (14:46)
[crosstalk 00:14:46] Do you trust the Taliban, Mr. President? Do you trust the Taliban, sir?
President Joe Biden: (14:51)
Is that a serious question?
Speaker 5: (14:53)
It’s absolutely a serious question. Do you trust the Taliban?
President Joe Biden: (14:55)
No, I do not.
Speaker 5: (14:56)
Do you trust handing over the country to the Taliban?
President Joe Biden: (14:57)
No, I do not trust the Taliban. [crosstalk 00:14:59]
Speaker 6: (14:59)
The intelligence community has assessed that the government will likely fall.
Speaker 5: (14:59)
Mr. President, will you amplify that question, please? Will you amplify your answer, please? Why you don’t trust the Taliban?
President Joe Biden: (15:12)
It’s a silly question. Do I trust the Taliban? No, but I trust the capacity of the Afghan military who was better trained, better equipped, and more competent in terms of conducting war. Yes, ma’am?
Speaker 7: (15:27)
Thank you, Mr. President. Given the amount of money that has been spent and the number of lives that have been lost, in your view with making this decision, where the last 20 years worth it?
President Joe Biden: (15:41)
You know my record. I can tell by the way you asked the question. I opposed permanently having American forces in Afghanistan, I argued from the beginning, as you may recall, it came to light after the administration was over, lasted in our administration, no nation has ever unified Afghanistan. No nation. Empires have gone there and not done it. The focus we had, and I strongly support it. And you may remember, I physically went to Afghanistan. I was up in that pass where Osama bin Laden was allegedly escaped, or out of harm’s way.
President Joe Biden: (16:33)
We went for two reasons. One, to bring Osama bin Ladin to the gates of hell, as I said at the time. The second reason was to eliminate Al-Qaeda’s capacity to deal with more attacks on the United States from that territory. We accomplished both of those objectives, period. That’s what I believe from the beginning, why we should be and why we should have gone to Afghanistan. That job had been over for some time. And that’s why I believe that this is the right decision, and quite frankly, overdue.
Speaker 6: (17:22)
[crosstalk 00:17:22] Mr. President, thank you. Mr. President, thank you very much. Your own intelligence community has assessed that the Afghan government will likely collapse-
President Joe Biden: (17:37)
That is not true.
Speaker 6: (17:39)
Can you please clarify what they have told you about whether that will happen or not?
President Joe Biden: (17:43)
That is not true. They did not reach that conclusion.
Speaker 6: (17:47)
So what is the of confidence that they have that it will not collapse?
President Joe Biden: (17:53)
The Afghan government and leadership has to come together. They clearly have the capacity to sustain the government in place. The question is, will they generate the kind of cohesion to do it? It’s not a question of whether they have the capacity. They have the capacity, they have the forces, they have the equipment. The question is, will they do it? I want to make clear, what I made clear to Ghani, that we are not going to walk away and not sustain their ability to maintain that force. We are. We’re going to also work to make sure we help them in terms of everything from food necessities and other things in the region.
President Joe Biden: (18:37)
But there is not a conclusion that in fact, they cannot defeat the Taliban. I believe the only way there’s going to be … This is now Joe Biden, not the intelligence community. The only way there’s only going to be peace and security in Afghanistan is that they work out a modus operandi with the Taliban and they make a judgment as to how they can make peace. And the likelihood there’s going to be one unified government in Afghanistan controlling the whole country is highly unlikely.
Speaker 6: (19:07)
Mr. President, thank you. But we have talked to your own top general in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller. He told ABC News, the conditions are so concerning at this point that it could result in a civil war. So if Kabul falls to the Taliban, what will the United States do about it?
President Joe Biden: (19:25)
Look, you’ve said two things. One, that if it could result in a civil war, that’s different than the Taliban succeeding. Number one. Number two, the question of what will be done is going to implicate the entire region as well. There’s a number of countries who have a grave concern about what’s going to happen in Afghanistan relative to their security. The question is, how much of a threat to the United States of America and to our allies is whatever results in terms of a government or an agreement? That’s when that judgment will be made.
Speaker 8: (20:09)
Mr. President, some Vietnamese veterans see echoes of their experience in this withdrawal in Afghanistan. Do you see any parallels between this withdrawal and what happened in Vietnam with some people feeling [crosstalk 00:20:22]-
President Joe Biden: (20:22)
None whatsoever. Zero. What you had is you had entire brigades breaking through the gates of our embassy. Six, if I’m not mistaken. The Taliban is not the North Vietnamese army. They’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable. [crosstalk 00:20:51] Then I’ll go to the other side. Hang on a second.
Speaker 9: (20:54)
Mr. President, how serious was the corruption among the Afghanistan government to this mission failing there?
President Joe Biden: (21:02)
Well, first of all, the mission hasn’t failed yet. There is in Afghanistan, and all parties, there’s been corruption. The question is, can there be an agreement on unity of purpose? What is the objective? For example, it started off, there were going to be negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan National Security Forces and the Afghan government that didn’t come to fruition. So the question now is, where do they go from here? That, the jury is still out, but the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban, overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely. Yes, ma’am.
Speaker 10: (21:53)
Mr. President, will the United states be responsible for the loss of Afghan civilian lives that could happen after the military exit?
President Joe Biden: (22:00)
No. No, no, no. It’s up to the people of Afghanistan to decide on what government they want, not us to impose the government on them. No country has ever been able to do that. Keep in mind as a student of history, as I’m sure you are, never as Afghanistan been a United country. Not in all of its history. Not in all of its history. [crosstalk 00:22:27]
Speaker 11: (22:27)
Mr. President, if this isn’t a mission accomplished moment, what is it in your view? [crosstalk 00:22:34]
President Joe Biden: (22:33)
The mission was accomplished in that we got Osama bin Laden and terrorism is not emanating from that part of the world. [crosstalk 00:22:43]
Speaker 11: (22:43)
Mr. President, if speed is safety, as you just said in your remarks, are you satisfied with the timeline of relocating Afghan nationals? Is it happening quickly enough to your satisfaction, if it may not happen until next month at the end?
President Joe Biden: (22:54)
Much of it’s already happened. There’s already been people, about 1,000 people who have gotten on aircraft and come to the United States already on commercial aircraft. So as I said, there’s over 2,500 people that, as from January to now have gotten those visas and only half decided that they wanted to leave. The point is that I think the whole process has to be speeded up period, in terms of being able to get these visas. [crosstalk 00:23:23]
Speaker 12: (23:23)
Why can’t the US evacuate these Afghan translators to the United States to await their visa processing as some immigrants at the Southern border have been allowed to do?
President Joe Biden: (23:32)
Because the law doesn’t allow that to happen. And that’s why we’re asking the Congress to consider changing the law. But in the meantime, we can guarantee their safety if they wish to leave by taking them to third countries, and/or while the wait is taking place, to come to … and hopefully while they’re waiting there to be able to bring them back to the United States, if that’s what they choose to do. [crosstalk 00:23:57]
Speaker 13: (24:00)
[crosstalk 00:24:00] Afghan [inaudible 00:24:03] woman. Any message, good message for Afghan women in future? Because they have achievement, they are really concerned their achievement.
President Joe Biden: (24:09)
They are very concerned with good reason.
Speaker 14: (24:11)
President Joe Biden: (24:11)
When I was in Afghanistan, I’ve been there a number of times. I remember being in a school outside, and by the way, the schools in Afghanistan are not fundamentally unlike schools in the west coast where they have an area in the middle that is, sort of looks like a playground and single story buildings connected around it. And I remember speaking to a group of young women, I guess they’re roughly, don’t hold me to this, they look like they’d be 14, 15 years old, and they’re in school and there’s a tiered classroom with single light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. As I know you know. And I said, “The United States came here to make sure that we got this terrorist, Osama bin Laden, and that terrorist didn’t amass again to go after our country. And then we’re going to have to leave.”
President Joe Biden: (25:11)
And a young woman said, “You can’t leave. You can’t leave.” It was heartbreaking. “You can’t leave,” she said, “I want to be a doctor. I want to be a doctor. I want to be a doctor. And if you leave, I’ll never be able to be a doctor.” Well, that’s why we spent so much time and money training the Afghan Security Forces, to do the work of defending that. Well, anyway, so yes. I’m aware. Let me take one more question. [crosstalk 00:25:43]
Speaker 15: (25:49)
Mr. President, thank you. I wanted to ask, with the benefit of hindsight, you’ve spoken to the fact that the Taliban are sort of at their militarily strongest point that you’ve seen in 20 years. How do you feel personally about that with the benefit of hindsight and all of the dollars and investments and American troops that were sent there?
President Joe Biden: (26:08)
Relative to the training and capacity of the ANSF and the training of the Federal Police, they’re not even close in terms of their capacity. I was making the point. The point was that here we were … the argument is, well, we could stay because no one was dying. No Americans are being shot. So why leave? Once the agreement was made by the last administration we were going to leave by May 1st, it was very clear that a Taliban that had always been a problem was even a more sophisticated problem than they were before. Not more sophisticated than the ANSF, the government, more than they were. The point being that it would have increased the prospect that they would have been able to take more lives of Americans if they decided we weren’t going to go after them. That was the point I was making. Thank you all so very much.