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President Joe Biden talks with soldiers and guests during a visit to Fort Bragg in North Carolina on Nov. 22, 2021. (AP) President Joe Biden talks with soldiers and guests during a visit to Fort Bragg in North Carolina on Nov. 22, 2021. (AP)

President Joe Biden talks with soldiers and guests during a visit to Fort Bragg in North Carolina on Nov. 22, 2021. (AP)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson December 15, 2021

Joe Biden wrong that he was against Afghanistan war from the start

If Your Time is short

• Biden opposed aspects of the Afghanistan war as vice president, including a 2009 troop surge ordered by Obama.

• However, it’s incorrect for Biden to say he opposed the war “from the very beginning.” Along with every other senator present, Biden voted to launch the war in the first place, three days after the 9/11 attacks.

 

President Joe Biden has been criticized for how he handled the U.S. military exit from Afghanistan in August. But Biden has said he remains convinced that it was the right thing to do.

During a CBS News interview that was primarily about first lady Jill Biden, the president referenced his past stance on the Afghanistan war.

"I’ve been against that war in Afghanistan from the very beginning," the president told Rita Braver in a segment aired on CBS’ "Sunday Morning" on Dec. 12. "We're spending $300 million a week in Afghanistan over 20 years."

A reader asked us to fact-check Biden’s stated position on the war, so we did. The record shows that Biden’s claim was wrong.

Biden was called out for a similar assertion during the Democratic presidential primary in 2019. Biden told an editorial board meeting of New Hampshire’s Seacoast Media Group that "I’m the guy that — as has been pointed out repeatedly — that thought we should not be going into Afghanistan."

At the time, CNN fact-checked Biden and found the assertion to be incomplete at best.

The Biden campaign told CNN that Biden had been skeptical of the U.S. role in Afghanistan, including opposing then-President Barack Obama’s "surge" of additional troops in 2009, when Biden was Obama’s vice president. The New York Times reported that Biden argued against a surge in internal debates.

However, as a senator in 2001, Biden did vote for the initial U.S. invasion of Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks. When the Authorization for Use of Military Force came up in the Senate three days after the attacks, it passed, 98-0, with Biden voting in favor.

While it’s possible to parse Biden’s 2019 statement as being somewhat consistent with his 2001 vote, it’s impossible to do so for what he told Braver — that "I’ve been against that war in Afghanistan from the very beginning."

The war began with that congressional vote, and Biden voted in favor of it.

Over the next year, Biden worked from his perch as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman to provide humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, and he sometimes offered words of caution about the balance between military efforts and humanitarian assistance.

For instance, he said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in October 2001 that unless the bombing of Afghanistan ends "sooner rather than later," the U.S. risks looking like a "high-tech bully."

Still, Biden did not flatly oppose a military response in Afghanistan. 

"America stands united behind our men and women in the military, who are putting themselves in harm's way," Biden said after the U.S. air assault began. "I join all Americans in supporting President (George W.) Bush."  

And as late as May 2002, Biden issued a statement welcoming a U.N. Security Council vote to extend the international military force in Kabul and calling for the force’s mandate to be broadened.

"I'm glad that the U.N. has extended the mandate of the peacekeepers in Afghanistan — but if this unit is not greatly expanded in both size and scope, there may soon be no real peace left to keep," he said. "Unless we provide the necessary diplomatic, military, and political support to extend (the force’s) mandate into other key cities and transit routes, we may well see Afghanistan fall back into the very sort of chaos and warlordism that spawned the Taliban in the first place."

Biden’s stance on the war in Iraq was similar. He voted for a resolution that authorized the use of force in Iraq, saying he supported the president. But he grew more critical as the years wore on. PolitiFact rated his 2019 claim that he opposed the war "immediately, the moment it started," False

The White House did not respond to an inquiry for this article.

Our ruling

Biden said, "I’ve been against that war in Afghanistan from the very beginning."

The record tells a different story. Biden, along with every senator, voted to launch the war, three days after the 9/11 attacks. He opposed aspects of the war as vice president, particularly a troop surge 10 years later.

We rate Biden’s statement False.

Our Sources

Joe Biden, comments to Rita Braver of CBS, aired Dec. 12, 2021

Congress.gov, "S.J.Res. 23 - Authorization for Use of Military Force," accessed Dec. 15, 2021

Roll call vote on S.J. Res 23, Sept. 14, 2001

Joe Biden, meeting with the editorial board of New Hampshire’s Seacoast Media Group, accessed Dec. 15, 2021

CNN, "Fact check: Biden makes misleading comments on his past positions on Iraq, Afghanistan wars," Dec. 31, 2019

Fox News, "Biden dismisses criticism of Afghanistan withdrawal," Dec. 13, 2021

New York Times, "How Obama Came to Plan for ‘Surge’ in Afghanistan," Dec. 5, 2009

Foreign Policy, "Biden trumps Petraeus on Afghan decision?" June 22, 2011

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "It's time to choose sides, Bush tells the world," Sept. 21, 2001 (accessed via Nexis)

San Antonio Express-News, "Congress rallies behind Bush, military actions," Oct. 8, 2001 (accessed via Nexis)

Agence France Presse, "Senate Foreign Relations chairman calls to extend ISAF mandate," May 23, 2002 (accessed via Nexis)

New York Post, "Biden the Unabidable," Oct. 28, 2001 (accessed via Nexis)

PolitiFact, "Joe Biden falsely claims that he immediately opposed Iraq War," Sept. 5, 2019

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Joe Biden wrong that he was against Afghanistan war from the start

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