East Room Washington D.C. July 8 2:09 P.M. EDT
Good afternoon. Earlier today, I was briefed by our senior military and national security leaders on the status of the drawdown of U.S. forces and allied forces in Afghanistan.
When I announced our drawdown in April, I said we would be out by September, and we're on track to meet that target.
Our military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on August 31st. The drawdown is proceeding in a secure and orderly way, prioritizing the safety of our troops as they depart.
Our military commanders advised me that once I made the decision to end the war, we needed to move swiftly to conduct the main elements of the drawdown. And in this context, speed is safety.
And thanks to the way in which we have managed our withdrawal, no one — no one U.S. forces or any forces have — have been lost. Conducting our drawdown differently would have certainly come with a increased risk of safety to our personnel.
To me, those risks were unacceptable. And there was never any doubt that our military would perform this task efficiently and with the highest level of professionalism. That's what they do. And the same is true of our NATO Allies and partners who have supported — we are supporting, and supporting us as well, as they conclude their retrograde.
I want to be clear: The U.S. military mission in Afghanistan continues through the end of August. We remain — we retain personnel and capacities in the country, and we maintain some authority — excuse me, the same authority under which we've been operating for some time.
As I said in April, the United States did what we went to do in Afghanistan: to get the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and to deliver justice to Osama Bin Laden, and to degrade the terrorist threat to keep Afghanistan from becoming a base from which attacks could be continued against the United States. We achieved those objectives. That's why we went.
We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build. And it's the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country.
Together, with our NATO Allies and partners, we have trained and equipped over three hu- — nearly 300,000 current serving members of the military — of the Afghan National Security Force, and many beyond that who are no longer serving. Add to that, hundreds of thousands more Afghan National Defense and Security Forces trained over the last two decades.
We provided our Afghan partners with all the tools — let me emphasize: all the tools, training, and equipment of any modern military. We provided advanced weaponry. And we're going to continue to provide funding and equipment. And we'll ensure they have the capacity to maintain their air force.
But most critically, as I stressed in my meeting just two weeks ago with President Ghani and Chairman Abdullah, Afghan leaders have to come together and drive toward a future that the Afghan people want and they deserve.
In our meeting, I also assured Ghani that U.S. support for the people of Afghanistan will endure. We will continue to provide civilian and humanitarian assistance, including speaking out for the rights of women and girls.
I intend to maintain our diplomatic presedence [presence] in Afghanistan, and we are coordinating closely with our international partners in order to continue to secure the international airport.
And we're going to engage in a determined diplomacy to pursue peace and a peace agreement that will end this senseless violence.
I've asked Secretary of State Blinken and our Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation to work vigorously with the parties in Afghanistan, as well as the regional and international stakeholders to support a negotiated solution.
To be clear — to be clear: Countries in the region have an essential role to play in supporting a peaceful settlement. We'll work with them, and they should help step up their efforts as well.
We're going to continue to work for the release of detained Americans, including Mark — excuse me — Fre- Frerichs — I want to pronounce the name correctly; I mis- — I misspoke — so that he can return to his family safely.
We're also going to continue to make sure that we take on the Afghan nationals who work side-by-side with U.S. forces, including interpreters and translators — since we're no longer going to have military there after this; we're not going to need them and they have no jobs — who are also going to be vital to our efforts so they — and they've been very vital — and so their families are not exposed to danger as well.
We've already dramatically accelerated the procedure time for Special Immigrant Visas to bring them to the United States.
Since I was inaugurated on January 20th, we've already approved 2,500 Special Immigrant Visas to come to the United States. Up to now, fewer than half have exercised their right to do that. Half have gotten on aircraft and com — commercial flights and come, and the other half believe they want to stay — at least thus far.
We're working closely with Congress to change the authorization legislation so that we can streamline the process of approving those visas. And those who have stood up for the operation to physically relocate thousands of Afghans and their families before the U.S. military mission concludes so that, if they choose, they can wait safely outside of Afghanistan while their U.S. visas are being processed.
The operation has identified U.S. facilities outside of the continental United States, as well as in third countries, to host our Afghan allies, if they ch- — if they so choose. And, starting this month, we're going to begin to re- — re- — reloc- — we're going to begin relocation flights for Afghanistan SIV applicants and their families who choose to leave.
We have a point person in the White House and at the State Department-led task force coordinating all these efforts.
But our message to those women and men is clear: There is a home for you in the United States if you so choose, and we will stand with you just as you stood with us.
When I made the decision to end the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, I judged that it was not in the national interest of the United States of America to continue fighting this war indefinitely. I made the decision with clear eyes, and I am briefed daily on the battlefield updates.
But for those who have argued that we should stay just six more months or just one more year, I ask them to consider the lessons of recent history.
In 2011, the NATO Allies and partners agreed that we would end our combat mission in 2014. In 2014, some argued, "One more year." So we kept fighting, and we kept taking casualties. In 2015, the same. And on and on.
Nearly 20 years of experience has shown us that the current security situation only confirms that "just one more year" of fighting in Afghanistan is not a solution but a recipe for being there indefinitely.
It's up to Afghans to make the decision about the future of their country.
Others are more direct. Their argument is that we should stay with the Afghan — in Afghanistan indefinitely. In doing so, they point to the fact that we — we have not taken losses in this last year, so they claim that the cost of just maintaining the status quo is minimal.
But that ignores the reality and the facts that already presented on the ground in Afghanistan when I took office: The Taliban was at its strongest mil- — is at its strongest militarily since 2001.
The number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan had been reduced to a bare minimum. And the United States, in the last administration, made an agreement that the — with the Taliban to remove all our forces by May 1 of this past — of this year. That's what I inherited. That agreement was the reason the Taliban had ceased major attacks against U.S. forces.
If, in April, I had instead announced that the United States was going to back — going back on that agreement made by the last administration — [that] the United States and allied forces would remain in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future — the Taliban would have again begun to target our forces.
The status quo was not an option. Staying would have meant
U.S. troops taking casualties; American men and women back in the middle of a civil war. And we would have run the risk of having to send more troops back into Afghanistan to defend our remaining troops.
[ ... ]
Read the full transcript HERE.
You can visit a collection of all White House posts by clicking HERE.