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Joe Biden defends US pullout as Taliban take control

August 17, 2021

A day after Taliban fighters entered the presidential palace in Kabul, world powers are still in shock. The capital's airport has become the last zone under US control.

President Joe Biden speaks about Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House
'After 20 years, I learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw forces,' Biden saidImage: Evan Vucci/AP Photo/picture alliance

The US and the rest of the international community scrambled on Monday to react to the shocking fall of Kabul to the Taliban the day before.

Military aircraft from the US, Germany and other countries were involved in evacuation operations at the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) where foreigners and Afghans alike made desperate attempts to flee the Taliban's advance.

World leaders came out with varying statements of solidarity with the Afghan people, condemnation of the Taliban and warnings about those who might seek refuge from the new ultraconservative Islamist regime.

Biden stands 'squarely behind' troop withdrawal

US President Joe Biden held a press conference on Monday to address the sharp criticisms leveled against his administration over its handling of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

He reiterated that his determination to go ahead with the withdrawal — announced first by former President Donald Trump — was the "right decision."

"I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw forces," Biden said.

However, he placed the blame for the collapse of the Afghan government on its leaders and the lack of willingness of Afghan forces to fight the Taliban.

The president also tasked US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken with allocating $500 million (€425 million) to provide for the "unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs of refugees, victims of conflict, and other persons at risk as a result of the situation in Afghanistan."

Desperate scenes at Kabul airport

The US also said it would keep troops at Kabul's airport to continue evacuating US citizens and Afghans who had supported US troops "as long as it was safe to do so."

"We will be working around the clock to relocate as many eligible individuals as we can," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

The airport was forced to cease operations for several hours after crowds swarmed the runway, trying to get onto planes and leave the country.

US officials confirmed that several people had died during the chaos with some falling from a departing military transport aircraft. US forces also shot dead two individuals who had brandished guns.

Airport operations restarted early on Tuesday morning with German and US aircraft managing to land, dropping off soldiers to help secure the airport and evacuating a number of individuals.

Merkel rues 'bitter development'

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke about the "extremely bitter development" in Afghanistan on Monday.

"It is a terrible development for the millions of Afghans who want a more liberal society," she said.

Her possible successor as chancellor also expressed dismay over the events.

"It is evident that this engagement of the international community was not successful. It is the biggest debacle that NATO has suffered since its founding and we're standing before an epochal change," said Christian Democrat party chief Armin Laschet.

International community divided

While the US insisted that no formal transition of power had taken place, despite President Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country, China said that it was ready for "friendly and cooperative" relations with the Taliban.

Russian and Iranian authorities, meanwhile, welcomed the stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan with the Taliban's victory.

At the same time, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on all countries to accept refugees fleeing from the dangers of Taliban rule. French President Emmanuel Macron, however, focused his comments on warning against "Islamist terrorism" and "irregular migratory flows" in the wake of the unfolding crisis.

ab/sri (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)