Joe Biden has vowed not to pass on the Afghanistan war to a fifth US president – and has announced he is sending 5,000 more troops to Kabul.
His administration has warned Taliban officials any actions that put American personnel at risk “will be met with a swift and strong US military response”.
Mr Biden has defended his decision to withdraw US troops from the country, and says the task of fighting back against Taliban insurgents must fall to Afghan forces.
Warning that an indefinite US military presence in Afghanistan is not an option, the president added: “One more year, or five more years, of US military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country. And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me.”
Of the 5,000 soldiers that Mr Biden announced, about 1,000 are newly approved.
Mr Biden said: “When I came to office, I inherited a deal cut by my predecessor – which he invited the Taliban to discuss at Camp David on the eve of 9/11 of 2019 – that left the Taliban in the strongest position militarily since 2001 and imposed a 1 May 2021 deadline on US forces.
“Shortly before he left office, he also drew US forces down to a bare minimum of 2,500.
“Therefore, when I became president, I faced a choice – follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our forces and our allies’ forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict.
“I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan – two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth.”
The deployment comes as Afghanistan’s government clings on to Kabul and Jalalabad, the only remaining big cities in its control as the Taliban advances.
The hardline Islamist militant group has swept through the country in recent weeks. Yesterday, fighters entered Mazar-e-Sharif virtually unopposed, with security forces escaping to neighbouring Uzbekistan.
Late last night, the Taliban said that its rapid gains show that it has been popularly accepted – and attempted to reassure Afghans and foreigners, including diplomats and aid workers, that they would be sage.
“The Islamic Emirate will, as always, protest their life, property and honour and create a peaceful and secure environment for its beloved nation,” it said.
Hundreds of people have been sleeping in tents or in the open air in Kabul, with one resident saying: “You can see the fear in their faces.”
The UK is among the countries that is currently evacuating British nationals and local translators – and this weekend, 600 troops are being sent to assist with this effort.
According to The Sunday Telegraph, Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow is going to be flown out of the country by tonight.
Ben Wallace, the UK’s defence secretary, has warned it is “arrogant” to think the UK could unilaterally prevent Afghanistan falling back into the grip of the Taliban.
Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, gave a televised speech yesterday in which he vowed not to give up on the “achievements” of the last 20 years, when US soldiers first toppled the Taliban.
Peace talks between the Taliban and the US have continued in Doha, Qatar, with warnings that a regime installed by force will not be recognised – all the while militants continue to seize control of Afghanistan.
Tweeting about Mr Biden’s latest statement, Conservative MP, former soldier and chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee Tom Tugendhat wrote: “President Biden isn’t handing over a smouldering conflict, he’s seeding a new conflagration.”
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