Biden Lays Out The Costs Of War To Defend His Decision To Leave Afghanistan

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Speaking one day after the last U.S. troops left Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war, President Biden on Tuesday forcefully defended his decision to end the U.S. military involvement in the beleaguered country, calling it “the right decision, the wise decision, the best decision for America.”

“I was not going to extend this forever war,” Biden said in remarks from the White House, “and I was not extending a forever exit.”

Pushing back against those who advocate for a small force remaining in Afghanistan, Biden said, “There is nothing low grade or low risk or low cost about any war.”

He said U.S. missions overseas should have “clear achievable goals” and “stay clearly focused on the fundamental national security interests of the United States.”

Biden also defended the much-criticized U.S. evacuation and said the U.S. is committed to continuing to help Americans and Afghans leave the country.

The war’s massive costs

As he has previously, the president painted the decision to leave Afghanistan as a binary choice — either continue indefinitely the 20-year war at an additional cost of U.S. lives and resources or end the American involvement.

Biden said the U.S. achieved its original goal in Afghanistan a decade ago by hunting down Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader and the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, but still stayed another decade. The terrorist threat has metastasized since then, Biden said, and the U.S. will maintain its fight against it, but he added, “We don’t need to fight a ground war to do it.”

Nearly 2,500 U.S. service members died over the 20-year war in Afghanistan, which cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

In his remarks, Biden said that people don’t understand “how much we have asked of the 1% [of Americans] who put on the military uniform.”

He cited the war’s costs to America — an estimated $300 million a day — as well as human costs to veterans and their families, including, he said, the 18 U.S. veterans who die by suicide each day.

Americans remain in Afghanistan

Biden also defended the decision to leave Afghanistan by his self-imposed Aug. 31 deadline. He said it was not arbitrary but “was designed to save American lives.”

The U.S. has evacuated some 5,400 Americans from Afghanistan over the past month.

Biden said 100 to 200 Americans remain in the country “with some intention to leave.” Most of them, he added, “are dual citizens, longtime residents who had earlier decided to stay because of their family roots in Afghanistan.”

Biden said that “the bottom line” was that more than 90% of Americans in Afghanistan “who wanted to leave were able to leave, and for those remaining Americans, there is no deadline. We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out.”

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