Hours after the last C-17 transport jet departed Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport, President Joe Biden defended his decision to get all American forces out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31.
"When I was running for president, I made a commitment to the American people that I would end this war," Biden said in a White House speech Aug. 31. "Today, I've honored that commitment."
After nearly two decades of fighting, thousands of casualties and over $2 trillion in spending, the United States has little to show for its effort. The U.S.-backed Afghan forces collapsed, and the Taliban now control the country.
Biden praised the skill and courage of the American soldiers who helped evacuate 120,000 people in 17 days, and said Americans owe a debt of gratitude to the 13 men and women in uniform who were killed by a suicide bomber from the Afghanistan branch of the Islamic State.
Despite those losses, Biden called the evacuation a success, and said the military had long ago accomplished the key mission of preventing terrorists from launching attacks on the U.S. from Afghan soil. Al-Qaida, which planned the Sept. 11, 2001, attack from Afghanistan, was now decimated, Biden said.
Beyond that, he said, the U.S. had no vital interest in the country. To remain in Afghanistan, he argued, would only divert the U.S. from dealing with real threats and real needs to invest at home.
Criticism over aftermath of Taliban takeover
Biden has faced withering criticism for the initially chaotic evacuation scene at the airport, and the deaths of the American service members. He argued that any evacuation would be difficult and dangerous.
Foreign policy analyst Michael O'Hanlon at Brookings, a Washington policy center, partly agreed, but said Biden's firm departure date made things harder.
"Once the decision to leave was made, we lost control of events such that no scenario was likely to be smooth or desirable," O'Hanlon said. "That's why I opposed the decision so strongly."
After Biden's speech, Republicans focused on the 100 to 200 Americans who are still in Afghanistan.
"He's claiming 'victory' after stranding hundreds of Americans and losing 13 brave service members," tweeted Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. "Joe Biden isn't fit to be president."
"The president of the United States is abandoning Americans in a terrorist war zone, and he cannot be bothered to answer a single question from the press," House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said.
McCarthy and his fellow House Republicans pushed for a vote to prohibit Biden from pulling the last troops out until "every American is safely home."
Biden said the remaining Americans are primarily dual citizens, and he said that since March, the administration had reached out 19 times with offers of help to leave. He said the Taliban have gone on radio and television promising safe passage, and that the U.N. Security Council, which includes China and Russia, passed a resolution calling on the Taliban to live up to that promise.
Biden cast his decision as one between ending the war, or continuing it indefinitely, at the cost of more money and American lives. He dismissed those who argued recently that the U.S. could have remained in some low-cost, low-risk posture.
"There's nothing low-grade or low-risk or low-cost about any war," Biden said. "It's time to end the war in Afghanistan, and close 20 years of war and strife and pain and sacrifice. It's time to look at the future, not the past."
U.S. involvement in Yemen
Biden's full promise went beyond Afghanistan. He said the U.S. would focus on al-Qaida and the Islamic State, and end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen.
As he has said many times, leaving Afghanistan allows America to target its effort on al-Qaida and ISIS in other nations. Biden announced in February that the U.S. will end its role in Saudi attacks in Yemen. He said American support for offensive operations and "relevant" arm sales to the Saudis would end.
In June, Biden said in a letter to Congress that American forces were helping Saudi Arabia with "military advice and limited information to regional forces for defensive and training purposes only as they relate to the Saudi-led Coalition's campaign against the Houthis in Yemen."
That seems like the sort of aid that allows the Saudis to maintain their military actions in Yemen.
We see clear progress on the first two parts of Biden's promise, but the situation in Yemen is mixed. For now, we rate this promise In the Works.