Biden defends Afghanistan withdrawal, says Taliban takeover 'highly unlikely'

President BidenJoe BidenOvernight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Democrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Democrats advance tax plan through hurdles MORE on Thursday rejected the idea that a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is “inevitable,” outlining next steps and defending his decision to withdraw from the 20-year war amid reports of a deteriorating security situation in the country.

“Let me ask those who want us to stay: How many more? How many thousands more Americans’ daughters and sons are you willing to risk? How long would you have them stay?” Biden said during an impassioned speech from the White House East Room.

“Already we have members of our military whose parents fought in Afghanistan 20 years ago. Would you send their children or their grandchildren, as well? Would you send your own son or daughter?" he asked.

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Biden also confirmed the U.S. military mission will end Aug. 31, ahead of his original Sept. 11 deadline, adding that the United States would begin evacuating Afghans who helped U.S. troops during the war as soon as this month.

“Our military commanders advised me that once I made the decision to end the war, we needed to move swiftly to conduct the main elements of the drawdown. And in this context, speed is safety,” Biden said. “Conducting our drawdown differently would have certainly come with increased risk of safety to our personnel. To me, those risks were unacceptable.”

In April, Biden ordered a full withdrawal from Afghanistan, setting the stage for the end of America’s longest war by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that originally sparked the U.S. invasion.

But as the U.S. withdrawal has neared its end, Taliban gains have accelerated, raising fears the insurgents will overrun Kabul after the U.S. departs. Critics have also compared the situation to the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Biden, though, categorically rejected those comparisons Thursday.

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“The Taliban is not the North Vietnamese Army. They're not remotely comparable in terms of capability,” Biden said. “There's going to be no circumstances where you’re going to see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy in the United States from Afghanistan.”

The Wall Street Journal last month reported on an intelligence assessment predicting that the Afghan government could fall as soon as six months after U.S. forces withdraw from the war-torn country. 

The winding down of the withdrawal has also prompted more urgent warnings on the need to evacuate Afghans who served as interpreters or otherwise helped U.S. troops during the war as they wait for their visa applications to come to the United States.

Biden said relocation flights will begin later this month to U.S. facilities outside the continental United States or in third-party countries, but offered few other details of the plan. The White House has not disclosed specifically where individuals will be transferred, with press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiOvernight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Democrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE earlier Thursday citing “security reasons” in not disclosing locations.

“Our message to those women and men is clear: There is a home for you in the United States, if you so choose,” Biden said. “We will stand with you, just as you stood with us.”

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Biden has insisted that U.S. support for Afghanistan will not end with the U.S. military mission there. Biden hosted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani two weeks ago prior to the start of the withdrawal as a show of U.S. support. The Biden administration plans to continue to provide support to Afghan security forces as well as humanitarian assistance. 

“The partnership between Afghanistan and the United States is not ending,” Biden told Ghani in the Oval Office on June 25. “Afghans are going to have to decide their future of what they want. … But we're going to stick with you. And we're going to do our best to see to it you have the tools you need.” 

Biden was peppered with questions Thursday on the withdrawal following the address and insisted that it was not inevitable that Afghanistan fall to the Taliban, saying that the Afghan army is as “well equipped as any army in the world” to fend off the Taliban. 

“The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely,” Biden said. 

Biden said that the objectives of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan were achieved — namely, that terrorism was not emanating from Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden was killed — but rejected the notion that his speech represented a “mission accomplished” moment. 

Biden also said it is up to the Afghan people to decide the fate of their country and said the U.S. would not be responsible for civilian deaths in the country once troops leave. 

“It’s up to the people of Afghanistan to decide on what government they want, not us to impose the government on them. No country has been able to do that,” Biden said. “Never has Afghanistan been a united country, not in all of its history.”