Biden defends Afghanistan exit again as Taliban declares victory over U.S.

Tuesday brought a moment to take stock of two decades in Afghanistan as President Joe Biden addressed the nation to mark the end of America's longest war. Biden once again forcefully defended the decision to withdraw and claimed a messy exit was inevitable. He praised the sacrifice of service members and their families for the last two decades. White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today brought a moment to take stock of two decades in Afghanistan.

    President Biden addressed the nation to mark the end of America's longest war. He again forcefully defended the decision to withdraw, claimed a messy exit was inevitable, and praised the sacrifice of service members and their families.

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    At the White House today, President Biden marked bring America's longest war to an end.

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: The war in Afghanistan is now over.

    I'm the fourth president who has faced the issue of whether and when to end this war. When I was running for president, I made a commitment to the American people that I would end this war.

    Today, I have honored that commitment.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    After facing fierce criticism, the president forcefully defended his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan after 20 years of fighting.

  • Joe Biden:

    There is no evacuation from the end of a war that you can run without the kinds of complexities, challenges, and threats we faced, none.

    I give you my word, with all of my heart, I believe this is the right decision, the wise decision, and the best decision for America.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president also spoke about the sacrifices made by American service members. And he paid tribute to those killed over the last two decades, including the 13 service members who died last week.

  • Joe Biden:

    Most of all, after 800,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan have traveled that whole country, brave and honorable service, after 20, 744 American service men and women injured, and the loss of 2, 461 American personnel, including 13 lives lost just this week, I refuse to open another decade of warfare in Afghanistan.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    President Biden also addressed the broader global threat from terrorism in places like Syria, Somalia, and Yemen, and from groups like ISIS and al-Qaida.

    Both terrorist groups remain active in Afghanistan still, with deadly capabilities. He argued the U.S. had other ways to fight the groups and did not need troops on the ground.

  • Joe Biden:

    We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries. We just don't need to fight a ground war to do it. We have what's called over-the-horizon capabilities.

    And to ISIS-K, we are not done with you yet.

    As commander in chief, I firmly believe the best path to guard our safety and our security lies in a tough, unforgiving, targeted, precise strategy that goes after terror where it is today, not where it was two decades ago.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    This afternoon, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley also spoke for the first time since the U.S. departure.

    Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: Today is an incredibly emotional day. For any soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine and their family, your service mattered and was not in vain.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Overnight, the Pentagon released this image showing the last American soldier to leave Afghanistan. Major General Chris Donahue boarded the final C-17 plane at the Kabul Airport just before midnight.

    The U.S. aircraft dropped flares as it rose into the night, gone for good. Soon after takeoff, celebratory gunfire filled the air, as Taliban fighters took the airport. In the daylight, Taliban convoys rolled across the tarmac. Their fighters walked where American troops had stood just hours earlier.

    Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid toured the site and spoke to fighters. He declared victory over the U.S.

  • Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban Spokesman (through translator):

    The U.S. aggression was a reckless act from the beginning. Now they are defeated, and the Afghan people won the battlefield and liberated their country.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Susannah George is the Afghanistan bureau chief for The Washington Post. She is one of the last foreign journalists left in Kabul.

  • Susannah George, The Washington Post:

    There weren't as many people out on the street, weren't as many cars out on the roads. Shops were open. Taliban fighters were around. They were celebrating, handing out flags, calling today an independence day of sorts. But the city as a whole felt very quiet.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But across Afghanistan, residents are anxious. The country is severely impoverished and heavily reliant on international aid. In the coming weeks, extreme food and cash shortages are expected to worsen.

  • Mirza Khan, Kabul Resident (through translator):

    There are no jobs. That is why the people are worried. The Taliban should try to create jobs and allow for more education.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Susannah George of The Washington Post:

  • Susannah George:

    People who are staying at home, who are too scared to go out on the streets are most concerned about retaliation from the Taliban. Once there are no American troops here, they fear that the U.S. will look away from the country and that the Taliban will return to the harsh tactics that really defined their rule in the 1990s in Kabul.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Despite two decades of war and hostility, the Taliban spokesman said the group wants to establish diplomatic relations with the U.S.

    Without a military presence, and with the U.S. Embassy in Kabul closed, the U.S. will depend on diplomacy to evacuate the remaining Americans and Afghan allies who want to leave. But with the Taliban in control of the airport, it's not yet clear how people will get out.

    Back in Washington at the Capitol, Republicans continued criticizing the president for what they say was a mismanaged pullout.

  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA):

    We should get every American home. I believe there should be accountability for what I see as probably the biggest failure of American government on a military stage in my lifetime. And we can never make this mistake again.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Some of the last Afghans able to leave on a U.S. military flight landed today in Rota, Spain. They will be housed at the military base there before permanently relocating to the U.S.

    Meanwhile, thousands of Afghans who didn't make it out in time hope they can one day do the same.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we will talk with the author of a new book that reveals the twists, turns and mistakes throughout the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

    That's later in the program.

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