(This was originally posted in The Hindu by Sriram Lakshman)
With U.S. troops almost completely out of Afghanistan and the Taliban making rapid territorial gains in the country, U.S. President Joe Biden said that the U.S. was not in Afghanistan for nation-building and that it was for the Afghans to decide their future. Mr. Biden said the U.S. had achieved what it had gone into Afghanistan to do, including preventing it from becoming a base from which the U.S. could be attacked.
“We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build. And it’s the right and the responsibility of Afghan people alone to decide their future, and how they want to run their country,” he said, speaking on the troop drawdown from the East Room of the White House on Thursday. Mr. Biden said America’s military mission in Afghanistan would end on August 31.
“And in this context, speed is safety,” he said, adding that no U.S. or allied forces had been lost in the drawdown. “There was never any doubt that our military performed this task efficiently and with the highest level of professionalism,” Mr. Biden said. American troops left Bagram Airfield last week – their largest base in Afghanistan – in the dead of night, without informing the Afghans, according to the base’s new commander. The place was looted before Afghan troops could take it over.
Afghan Translators, Drivers
To those who had worked with the U.S. side in Afghanistan, such as drivers and translators and their families, Mr. Biden said, “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.” Mr. Biden said the U.S. was going to work with the parties in Afghanistan as well as other countries to support a negotiated solution to end the violence. “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,” he said.
Asked if a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was inevitable, Mr. Biden answered in the negative, pointing to the relative strength of the Afghan forces in terms of troop numbers, training, and equipment. Mr. Biden also denied that the U.S. intelligence community had told him that the Afghan government would collapse.
“That is not true. They did not reach that conclusion,” he said. The American press carried reports last month citing unnamed sources that said U.S. intelligence assessments had determined that the Afghan government could fall within six months of U.S. troop retrenchment. When asked what level of confidence the intelligence community has that the Afghan government would not collapse, Mr Biden said Afghan leaders have the capacity, the forces and the equipment but whether they could generate the cohesion to govern remained in question.
“The question is will they do it? I want to make clear what I made clear to (Afghan President Ashraf Ghani), that we are not going to walk away and not sustain their ability to maintain that force. We’re gonna also work to make sure we help them in terms of everything from food necessities and other things in the region,” Mr. Biden said, adding that his own conclusion was that peace could be achieved only if the Afghan government finds a modus vivendi with the Taliban. “And the likelihood there’s going to be one unified government in Afghanistan controlling the whole country is highly unlikely,” he said.