US President Biden to send additional forces to help US troops exit Afghanistan
US President Joe Biden said Saturday he is sending additional troops to Afghanistan to ensure “orderly and safe drawdown” of American and allied troops and sought to deflect mounting criticism of his exit decision by saying he was hamstrung by his predecessor President Donald Trump’s decisions and actions, such as the pace deal with the Taliban.
Biden said he had authorised the deployment of 5,000 troops, which is effectively an addition of a 1,000 personnel to the more than 3,000 announced earlier and the 1,000 already present in Afghanistan. The troops are to be stationed in Kabul.
Though their mission will be “narrowly” focused on the safety and security of the drawdown, as US defense officials have said, the fresh deployments will raise the number of US troops in Afghanistan to twice the 2,500 that had remained there as a result of cuts ordered by former President Trump before he left office.
The American president also said he had directed the US military and intelligence to “maintain the capability and the vigilance” to address the threat of terrorism emanating from Afghanistan and support efforts by Afghan president Ashraf Ghani and others to end the bloodshed and pursue a political settlement.
To the Taliban, Biden said, it has been conveyed that any action by them that puts US mission and personnel at risk will be “met with a swift and strong US military response”.
The US president also announced the appointment of Ambassador Tracey Jacobson to help in the evacuation and relocation of Afghans who worked with the US government during the last 20 years and now face the risk of retaliation from the Taliban.
Biden’s pullout decision has been facing growing criticism, fuelled in large measure by the swift and rapid military advances by the Taliban, who are now in control of a majority of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, and all major cities but Kabul and Jalalabad.
Republican senator Mitt Romney has said that Biden’s pullout was “without an effective strategy to defend our partners; and with inestimable shock to our nation’s credibility, reliability, and honor”. Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to the US and head of South Asia at Hudson Institution, blasted the US president and his team for exhibiting “callousness”.”
Biden, who earlier said he did not regret the decision to leave Afghanistan, defended himself again on Saturday, mindful perhaps of the growing criticism, this time by pointing to the inability of the Afghan forces to beat back the Taliban.
“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,” the US president said. “And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me.”
As before, Biden also deflected blame for the tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan on former President Trump, saying he was hamstrung by his predecessor’s decisions.
“I inherited a deal cut by my predecessor—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 May 1, 2021 deadline on US forces,” Biden said, referring to a meeting that Trump had wanted to host at Camp David but did not.
Trump had also drawn down US forces to a “a bare minimum of 2,500”, Biden, said, adding, that when he took over as president, he had two choices to “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”.
Biden took the first option. But he had a third choice to abandon Trump’s deal, which he said he would not have negotiated, and start afresh. He has rescinded and overturned many of Trump’s decisions, such as to leave the Paris accord on climate change and the WHO, for instance.