President Joe Biden on Monday strongly defended his decision to pullout U.S. troops from Afghanistan and rejected broad criticism of the chaotic withdrawal that is posing a crisis for him.
Biden said the mission of the United States was never supposed to be nation building as he blamed the Taliban's takeover of the country on the unwillingness of the Afghan army to fight the militant group.
Thousands of civilians desperate to flee Afghanistan thronged Kabul airport's single runway on Monday after the Taliban seized the capital, prompting the United States to suspend evacuations as it came under mounting criticism at home.
Five people were reported killed in the chaos. A U.S. official told Reuters two gunmen had been killed by U.S. forces there over the past 24 hours.
"I stand squarely behind my decision," Biden said. "After 20 years I've learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces. That's why we're still there."
"The truth is: this did unfold more quickly than we anticipated. So what's happened? Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military gave up, sometimes without trying to fight," Biden said.
Biden coupled his defense with a warning to Taliban leaders: let the U.S. withdrawal proceed unimpeded or face devastating force.
- Desperate Afghans fall from sky after clinging to plane leaving Kabul
- Taliban enter Kabul from all sides after capturing rest of major Afghan cities
- Afghan President Ghani flees as Taliban enters Kabul
Taliban insurgents entered Afghanistan's capital Kabul on Sunday as the United States evacuated diplomats from its embassy by helicopter.
Chaos and desperation filled the streets, as the Taliban declared the war in Afghanistan was over, taking control of the presidential palace in Kabul.
President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on Sunday as the Islamist militants entered the capital virtually unopposed, saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed, while hundreds of Afghans desperate to leave flooded Kabul airport.