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WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden has strongly defended his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan as critics question the chaotic latest chapter in the country’s longest war.

“I wasn’t going to prolong this war forever, and I wasn’t going to extend an outing forever,” he told the White House in his first public speech since the last American troops left the Afghanistan.

It is time, he said, to stop using American soldiers to remake other countries. “I don’t think enough people understand how much we asked of the 1% of this country who put on this uniform.”

The last US flight from Kabul departed one minute before midnight local time on Monday. He was greeted with fireworks and gunfire as the Taliban celebrated the pullout, 20 years after their regime was toppled by US forces.

Biden also called his administration’s evacuation efforts in Afghanistan “an extraordinary success.” Some have dismissed criticism that his administration could have handled the evacuations better by starting to evacuate people earlier this summer or extending the deadline beyond the August 31 deadline in a bid to get more allies out. Afghans and Americans in the country.

No matter when the United States started the evacuations, he said, there would have been a rush to the airport and staying longer would have meant an escalation of conflict with the Taliban.

“The Aug. 31 departure was not due to an arbitrary deadline. It was designed to save American lives,” Biden said. “The bottom line is that there is no evacuation of the end of a war that you can wage without the kind of complexities, challenges and threats that we have faced. None.”

The war in Afghanistan has been costly. More than 47,000 civilians and 2,400 US servicemen have been killed in the 20-year conflict, according to Brown University’s Costs of War project. The last years of the conflict have been among the bloodiest, with civilian casualties in Afghanistan reaching record levels in the first half of 2021, according to the United Nations.

Thirteen US servicemen and more than 100 Afghan civilians were killed Wednesday, just days before the final withdrawal, in a suicide bombing outside Kabul airport.

The chaos and bloodshed in Afghanistan last month drew attention to a period the White House hoped would be spent on Biden’s national agenda, including efforts to channel more than $ 4 trillion in new spending in infrastructure, health care and education programs through a divided Congress.

“Do not extend an outing forever”

The majority of Americans said they disapproved of Biden’s handling of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, according to a Reuters / Ipsos poll released on Monday, but only 20% of those polled said he deserved “the greatest blame for the ‘current state’ of the conflict.

Since July, the United States has helped airlift more than 120,000 people out of Afghanistan, including about 5,500 Americans. Biden said about 100 to 200 Americans have remained in Afghanistan always and have “some intention of leaving,” many of whom have dual citizenship.

Biden said Tuesday there was no deadline for evacuating Americans who wish to leave.

Two sources close to the operation pointed out that the Americans had multiple opportunities to leave for more than two weeks.

US officials, working on the ground in Kabul, the State Department in Washington, and other diplomatic facilities around the world, conducted what has been described as a “continuous, 24/7 operation. of 7, ”to contact all Americans who have expressed an interest in leaving the country and help facilitate their evacuation. Officials made 55,000 phone calls, sent 33,000 e-mails in a process that began with three simple questions: Where are you? Do you want to leave now? And do you need help getting to the airport ?, said people familiar with the process.

Officials pointed out that the 100 to 200 Americans who had not been evacuated by Monday’s deadline were among the most nuanced and complicated cases: individuals with dual citizenship and deep roots in Afghanistan; those with large extended families, including non-citizens they hoped to bring with them; or those who have waited very late in the process to express their interest in leaving.

Efforts now to evacuate the remaining Americans will depend on a campaign of diplomatic pressure that will test the administration’s belief that it has significant influence over the Taliban to ensure their continued cooperation.

Reflecting on the past 20 years, Biden said it was important to learn from what he saw as two key mistakes made in Afghanistan: the lack of a mission with “clear and achievable goals” and the lack of focus on “fundamental national security in the interests of the United States of America.”

“This decision concerning Afghanistan is not only about Afghanistan. It is about putting an end to an era of major military operations to remake other countries,” he continued.

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