August 16, 2021, Afghanistan-Taliban news

By Melissa Mahtani, Meg Wagner, Michael Hayes, Melissa Macaya, Aditi Sangal, Brad Lendon, Joshua Berlinger and Kara Fox, CNN

Updated 12:05 a.m. ET, August 17, 2021
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5:20 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

Biden on 20 years of US military presence in Afghanistan: "The buck stops with me"

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

(Evan Vucci/AP)
(Evan Vucci/AP)

President Biden acknowledged the "many missteps" made in Afghanistan over two decades of US military presence and took some responsibility for the current situation unfolding on the ground during his remarks at the White House.

"We have to be honest, our mission in Afghanistan is taking many missteps — made many missteps over the past two decades. I'm now the fourth American president to preside over war in Afghanistan. Two Democrats and two Republicans. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth president. I will not mislead the American people by claiming that just a little more time in Afghanistan will make all the difference. Nor will I shrink from my share of responsibility for where we are today in how we must move forward from here," Biden said.

I am President of the United States of America, and the buck stops with me. I'm deeply saddened by the facts we now face. But I do not regret my decision to end America's war fighting in Afghanistan," the President said.

Watch here:

4:23 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

Biden acknowledges that the scenes from Aghanistan are "painful" for veterans

During his address today, Biden acknowledged how "painful" the "scenes that we're seeing in Afghanistan" are for many people, in particular veterans and others who have "spent time on the ground working to support the Afghan people."

"The scenes that we're seeing in Afghanistan, they're gut-wrenching, particularly for our veterans, our diplomats, humanitarian workers, for anyone who has spent time on the ground working to support the Afghan people. For those who have lost loved ones in Afghanistan, and for Americans who have fought and served in the country, serve our country in Afghanistan. This is deeply, deeply personal. It is for me as well."

He said that he has traveled to Afghanistan on four occasions.

"I've met with the people, I've spoken with the leaders. I spent time with our troops and I came to understand firsthand what was and was not possible in Afghanistan. So now we're focused on what is possible. We will continue to support the Afghan people." 

4:23 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

Biden: "I stand squarely behind my decision" to pull US troops from Afghanistan

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

President Biden today said he stands by his decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, characterizing the decision as a choice between pulling out, or going back to fighting the Taliban in the middle of the fighting season.

"I stand squarely behind my decision," Biden said in remarks from the White House. "After 20 years, I've learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces. That's why we're still there."

Biden went on to say that he had weighed the risks carefully before making the decision, but acknowledged that the situation on the ground had devolved more quickly than he anticipated.

"We were clear-eyed about the risks," he said. "We planned for every contingency. But, I always promised the American people that I will be straight with you. The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated."

The President went on to outline what he believes were the events that led to the Taliban's swift takeover in the country.

"So what's happened? Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, some without trying to fight. If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending US military involvement in Afghanistan, now, was the right decision," Biden said. "American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves."

5:32 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

Biden defends decision to withdraw from Afghanistan: "How many more lives, American lives, is it worth?"

President Biden stood firm in his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, vowing in White House remarks to not repeat the mistakes "we've made in the past."

"So I'm left again to ask of those who argue that we should stay. How many more generations of America's daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghanistan's civil war? When Afghan troops will not? How many more lives, American lives, is it worth? How many endless rows of headstones at Arlington National Cemetery? I'm clear in my answer. I will not repeat the mistakes we've made in the past," the President said.

"The mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely in a conflict that is not in the national interest of the United States, of doubling down on a civil war in a foreign country, of attempting to remake a country through the endless military deployments of US forces. Those are the mistakes we cannot continue to repeat because we have significant vital interest in the world that we cannot afford to ignore," the President continued.

Biden acknowledged how painful it is for many in the US and in Afghanistan to see the images unfolding on the ground.

"The scenes that we're seeing in Afghanistan, they're gut-wrenching, particularly for our veterans, our diplomats, humanitarian workers, for anyone who has spent time on the ground working to support the Afghan people," Biden said.

"For those who have lost loved ones in Afghanistan, and for Americans who have fought and served in the country, serve our country in Afghanistan. This is deeply, deeply personal. It is for me as well. I've worked on these issues as long as anyone," Biden continued.

Biden touted his own travel to the region as vice president, telling reporters, “So now we're focused, focused on what is possible.”

“We will continue to support the Afghan people. We will lead with our diplomacy, our international influence and our humanitarian aid, we’ll continue to push for regional diplomacy and engagement to prevent violence and instability. We’ll continue to speak out for the basic rights of the Afghan people, of women and girls, just as we speak out all over the world. I’ve been clear: human rights must be the center of our foreign policy, not the periphery. But the way to do it is not through endless military deployments," the President said.

Watch here:

CNN's DJ Judd contributed reporting to this post.

4:22 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

Biden: "It is wrong to order American troops to step up when Afghanistan's own armed forces would not"

(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

President Biden said the situation in Afghanistan unfolded "more quickly than we had anticipated," but defended his withdrawal of US troops.

"American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves," Biden said in an address to the nation Monday.

"We spent over a trillion dollars. We trained an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong, incredibly well equipped. A force larger in size than the militaries of many of our nato allies. We gave them every tool they could need. We paid their salaries, provided for the maintenance of their air force, something the Taliban doesn't have," he continued.

Biden said it was the Afghanistan political leaders who gave up and fled the country.

"We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We could not provide them the will to fight for that future. There are some very brave and capable Afghan special forces units and soldiers, but if Afghanistan is unable to mount any real resistance to the Taliban now, there is no chance that one more year, five more years or 20 more years of US military boots on the ground would've made any difference."

The President said he believes "it is wrong to order American troops to step up when Afghanistan's own armed forces would not."

4:18 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

Biden: My choice was either to follow through with Trump's agreement with Taliban or escalate conflict

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

(Evan Vucci/AP)
(Evan Vucci/AP)

President Biden defended his decision to rapidly withdraw troops from Afghanistan, citing the deal his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, made with the Taliban as one of the main reasons.

"When I came into office, I inherited a deal that President Trump negotiated with the Taliban. Under his agreement, US Forces would be out of Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, just a little over three months after I took office. US forces had already drawn down during the Trump administration from roughly 15,500 American forces to 2,500 troops in country. And the Taliban was at its strongest militarily since 2001. The choice I had to make as your President was either to follow through on that agreement or be prepared to go back to fighting the Taliban in the middle of the spring fighting season. It would've been no ceasefire after May 1. There was no agreement protecting our forces after May 1. There was no status quo of stability without American casualties after May 1," Biden said during his remarks from The White House.

Biden continued, "There was only a cold reality of either following through on the agreement to withdraw our forces or escalating the conflict and sending thousands more American troops back into combat in Afghanistan. Lurching into the third decade of conflict. I stand squarely behind my decision," Biden said.
5:33 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

Biden: US mission in Afghanistan "was never supposed to have been nation building" 


President Biden began his address to the nation Monday by saying that the situation in Afghanistan is "rapidly evolving." He said the White House's national security team is "closely monitoring the situation on the ground."

Biden said he wants to remind the country "how we got here and what America's interests are in Afghanistan." He said that the US mission in Afghanistan that started two decades ago "was never supposed to have been nation building." 

"I went to Afghanistan almost 20 years ago with clear goals: get those who attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001, and make sure al Qaeda could not use Afghanistan as a base from which to attack us again. We did that. We severely degraded al Qaeda and Afghanistan. We never gave up the hunt for Osama bin laden and we got him. That was a decade ago. Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building," he said.

He added: "Our only vital national interest in Afghanistan remains today what has always been, preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland."

Biden's address is ongoing.

Watch here:

4:01 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

NOW: Biden delivers remarks on Afghanistan and America's longest war 

From CNN's Kevin Liptak, Jeff Zeleny, Kaitlan Collins and Jennifer Hansler

President Joe Biden arrives at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, DC, on August 16.
President Joe Biden arrives at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, DC, on August 16. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

President Biden is addressing the crisis in Afghanistan from the White House as he faces mounting questions about his administration's apparent failure to prepare for the collapse of that nation's government.

Biden remained at the Camp David presidential retreat with members of his family over the weekend as chaotic images from Kabul emerged. He returned to Washington today ahead of his address.

It will be his first time in six days speaking in public on the matter, which has become the most serious test of Biden's foreign policy since he took office.

Even as chaos descended on Kabul's international airport, where desperate Afghans rushed the tarmac seeking a way out of their country, the President has remained resolute in his decision to withdraw American troops from the country.

At the same time, he has sent an additional 6,000 troops to the country to secure the airport, a sign of the complicated and contradictory process of winding down America's longest war.

In a written statement over the weekend, Biden staunchly defended his decision to leave Afghanistan, saying he would not pass the 20-year conflict on to another president. He also lay part of the blame for the current situation on his predecessor, Donald Trump, who brokered a deal with the Taliban to withdraw American troops by May 1, 2021.

Speaking Monday on morning television programs, senior members of Biden's national security team also sought to shift blame for the collapse of the Afghan government on the country's defense forces, which they said lacked the will to defend their country against the Taliban.

Read more about Biden's remarks here.

3:53 p.m. ET, August 16, 2021

White House circulates talking points pushing back on criticism of Afghanistan withdrawal

From CNN's Lauren Fox and Jeremy Herb 

As a sign of the increasing blowback the Biden administration is facing on Afghanistan, the White House has circulated a series of talking points that have been distributed to Democratic offices this afternoon ahead of President Biden’s speech. 

Some Democratic lawmakers have become more outspoken in recent days against the approach that Biden took in the withdrawal. 

The talking points contain some factual errors and are missing important context. For example, there are around 900 troops still in Syria, despite the talking points claiming there are no “boots on the ground” in the country. 

And the White House claims that troops had been prepositioned in the region in a sign they anticipated that Kabul could fall quickly, but not all of the troops were prepositioned. The 82nd Airborne deployed from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. 

The White House also pushed back on the criticism it did not do enough to evacuate Afghanistan civilians sooner, claiming that “many Afghans to whom we gave visas to come to the US chose to stay in their country, still hopeful.” But there is clear evidence some of these eligible Afghans have been trying to leave the country for weeks, and, moreover, some have been waiting years for visas. Bipartisan lawmakers and advocates have been telling the administration for months that the process was moving too slowly.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond, Jennifer Hansler and Natasha Bertrand contributed reporting to this post.