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Interview With Journalist Elizabeth Becker; Interview With Former U.S. Special Operations Commander Admiral William McRaven. Aired 2-2:45p ET
Aired April 14, 2021 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
TONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Now it is time to bring our forces home.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): The United States will withdraw troops from Afghanistan and end its longest war by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11
attacks. But will there be another Taliban takeover?
I talk to the man who oversaw the deadly raid on Osama bin Laden, retired Admiral William McRaven, author of the new book "The Hero Code."
And you don't belong here. Former war correspondent Elizabeth Becker tells me how three female journalists defied the odds and rewrote the story of
the Vietnam War.
MICHIO KAKU, AUTHOR, "THE GOD EQUATION": Aha. Maybe, just maybe this is a signal that there's a higher theory out there.
AMANPOUR: Has Einstein's dream finally come true? Physicist Michio Kaku tells our Walter Isaacson about a breakthrough scientific discovery and his
new book, "The God Equation."
AMANPOUR: And welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Three U.S. presidents have tried and failed to end the war in Afghanistan. Joe Biden is refusing to be the fourth. By September, he will withdraw
thousands of troops from the country known as the graveyard of empires, and NATO is likely to follow. Today, Biden saying the 9/11 attacks are no
justification to stay.
It's a campaign promise kept, but also a risky bet, the Taliban already threatening trouble if foreign forces don't leave by May 1. That's the
deadline that was reached by the former President Trump. And just yesterday, U.S. intelligence officials said prospects for a peace deal
remain low, predicting the Taliban will make battlefield gains in the next year.
But after speaking to Biden, the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, said that his security and defense forces can defend their own nation. And President
Biden is determined to press on. A source familiar with his thinking told me, the president figures no amount of troops will be a game-changer there
So, joining me now for perspective is the retired Admiral William McRaven, who commanded the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. He's also author of the
new book "The Hero Code."
Admiral McRaven, welcome to the program.
So, I mentioned Osama bin Laden. Let's just go back to the beginning. The only reason U.S. and NATO allied forces are in Afghanistan is because of
the plot that Osama bin Laden hatched, under the auspices of the Taliban on 9/11.
Now, 20 years later, these troops will be gone, but conditions won't have been met. In other words, the longstanding demand that the U.S. see peace
and political reconciliation there will not have been met. Just give me your vision of what this will mean on the ground.
ADM. WILLIAM MCRAVEN (RET.), FORMER COMMANDER, U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS: Well, thanks, Christiane.
Obviously, the Biden administration has made the assessment that we can't win this war militarily, that it's going to have to have some sort of
political outcome in order for us to leave Afghanistan in a thoughtful, timely manner, which we are trying to do.
But, as you point out, we went there in the first place in order to take away the sanctuary for al Qaeda. And if you look over the last 20 years, we
have been successful in doing that. We have not had a major attack on the U.S. since 9/11, and certainly nothing from Afghanistan.
So, our -- I mean, again, our mission to some degree, we achieved the results we were hoping to achieve. Now, as the president looks at departing
on September 11, there are still going to be risks. And from my standpoint, as a former senior military officer, all you can hope for is that the
president has listened to the advice and counsel of his senior leaders in the military.
And I know for a fact that he has listened to General Scott Miller, who is the commander of the ISAF forces out there. He has listened to FRANK
McKenzie, who is the CENTCOM commander, of course, Chairman Mark Milley, and the secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, all four men who have had
extensive experience in Afghanistan.
And they have had the opportunity to present the risks, to present the challenges to the president. And, really, from a military standpoint,
that's all we can hope for.
Then, at the end of the day, we are a professional military. We will follow the orders of our civilian leaders, and we will do the best we can to
execute those orders. And I think that's -- that is the way forward for us right now.
AMANPOUR: Let me just ask you to think back, then, to when the Obama administration -- of course, Joe Biden, was vice president then -- withdraw
all forces from Iraq.
And shortly thereafter, ISIS came storming in and took over what we were told was a piece of land the size of France and the size of, I don't know,
half of Western Europe. And it took many years and a redeployment of thousands of U.S. troops to rid that place of ISIS.
Do you think that is a risk by leaving Afghanistan in this way now, whether it's ISIS or any other anti-Western terror group?
MCRAVEN: Well, obviously, ISIS and Taliban aren't the same.
But I know that the military leaders have learned from what happened in Iraq and the rise of ISIS. They have briefed the president on, again, the
risks of the Taliban coming back into power, what is going to happen in terms of the sanctuaries, what will happen to the progress that we have
made with the with the women in Afghanistan.
I am confident that all of those risks have been laid out in great detail to the president. And part of the president's assessment was, how are we
going to mitigate those risks? The Taliban have never been an existential threat to the United States. It was the sanctuary that they provided for al
Qaeda that was the threat to the United States and our national security.
So, moving forward, the question is going to be, can we minimize those risks when we depart Afghanistan? Can we continue to kind of keep an eye on
the threat that may emanate from Afghanistan? And I am confident that military leaders, if they are given this challenge of figuring out how
we're going to mitigate the sanctuary and -- or take away the sanctuary and mitigate the threat, that they will be able to do that.
MCRAVEN: They will be able to ensure that we have drone coverage and intelligence assets on the ground. We will figure out a way to do that.
AMANPOUR: OK, so that's what my question was going to be. How do you figure it out? You say drones and some intelligence assets. Is that enough?
And I guess the second question to that, you have been a commander of forces on the ground when you were in combat there, commander of Special
Operations. I mean, you're intimately, militarily and intelligence-wise, connected to Afghanistan.
Why is it that the U.S. intelligence community, then, has -- as the president is announcing the withdrawal says, that it is likely that there
won't be a peace deal, that the Taliban will continue to make gains, and could possibly overrun the elected U.S.-backed Afghan government? What has
happened in these intervening 20 years that has allowed that to be the case?
And, conversely, why aren't the Afghan security forces, after everything the U.S. and others have done, able to stand up?
MCRAVEN: Well, I mean, if you listen to President Ghani, they are.
I mean, we have trained somewhere in the neighborhood of 350,000, Afghan National Security Forces. Now, the question is going to be, will they be
able to stand up to the Taliban? And my expectation, Christiane, is that, again, the military leadership has thought through this with the Afghans,
that they are putting -- they're putting things in place to ensure that we can provide a quick reaction to the Afghans if they need it, that we can
provide close air support if the Afghans were to continue to need it.
So, our job will be to mitigate the risks that are going to be posed by this withdraw. And make no mistake about it. I'm not here telling you that
there are no risks. There are risks, absolutely.
What I am telling you is, I think the president of the United States understands those risks, that he has probably given the task to the
military and the intelligence community to figure out a way to mitigate those risks. We will have to do so from the neighborhood, I'm sure.
And I have got to believe that there may have to be some very small residual presence on the ground in Bagram or elsewhere to be able to
facilitate our resources coming in and helping the Afghans when they need it.
AMANPOUR: Ooh, well, that would be -- that would be interesting. Well, we will see if the president plans leave, as you say, a residual force.
Let me ask you. You mentioned...
MCRAVEN: I'm talking about a small amount of people to help facilitate things.
MCRAVEN: I'm not talking about hundreds or thousands of soldiers.
AMANPOUR: Well, there aren't hundreds of thousands now, Admiral.
There's like 2,500 U.S. and...
MCRAVEN: No, hundreds or thousands.
MCRAVEN: So, my point is a handful of people on the ground in Bagram to work with the Afghans and to kind of facilitate things that will be
necessary for our support.
AMANPOUR: Yes. I get it. I get it.
The president, Ashraf Ghani, has spoken to President Biden. He has said he respects the U.S. decision and that he believes his forces can defend their
But, of course, we see that U.S. intelligence and others, U.S. military on the ground, have reported a very severe uptick in Taliban military activity
on the ground, gaining more territory, more civilians killed over the last year than previously, the same old business as usual.
This is what the president told me about life in Afghanistan and how they didn't want just any U.S. withdraw. They wanted to be prepared to maintain
the gains that you all have fought for. Here's what he told me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ASHRAF GHANI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: One thing needs to be clear. Afghan society is not willing to go back, and we are not the type of
society that the Taliban-type approach of the past can be imposed on us.
That was the peace of the graveyard. We want a positive peace, where all of us together overcome our past, embrace each other and together have build a
-- rebuild an Afghanistan that can be what I call a roundabout, where all civilizations, all people, all activities can interact.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Admiral McRaven, that was the president, along with the first lady, who was very concerned about what happened to women in Afghanistan,
because your presence has given women their -- the ability to have their rights in Afghanistan, which are under great threat right now.
I want to ask you, from your experience with the Taliban, what do you expect? I know the president and those who are talking about the reasons
for withdrawal are saying that, well, the Taliban, even if they do have some military victory, even if they do take control, will not want to be an
international pariah again.
Do you think that? I mean, they're already saying women have to stay where they belong in the house. They don't want to go to Istanbul, which is an
attempt to have a summit, to have a political resolution. They haven't met any of their commitments to the Trump administration in the peace
negotiations that the U.S. has been backing.
What do you think, from your gut and your experience, the Taliban will do if they are victorious?
MCRAVEN: Yes, I do not trust the Taliban at all, never did, and never will.
And the fact that matter is, I think they are going to try to come back into power. I think they are going to try to establish a pre-9/11, if you
will, presence. So, the question is going to be, once again, how are we going to deal with that?
Well, it is going to be up to the Afghans. And when your culture and your society and the remarkable men and women in Afghanistan are threatened, I
hope they will step up and fight hard for the gains that they have made over the last 20 years.
I believe the president of Afghanistan when he says what kind of future he can see for it. But I got to tell you, it's going to be a fight. Once
again, I hope we are in a position to help our Afghan allies if the Taliban begins to make this move. That is -- again, remains up to the president of
the United States to determine how much military power and how much military presence he wants to continue to provide to the Afghans, even if
it is from kind of over the horizon, if you will.
But, again, nobody should be naive to the fact that the Taliban will try to return to a pre-9/11 position. Our case, of course, is, how do we prevent
Afghanistan from becoming a sanctuary for terrorists? I think we can do that even without a full-time 2,500-men presence in Afghanistan.
AMANPOUR: And what about the Afghans who put their life on the line to help the United States to infiltrate? You know that better than anybody,
because I'm sure you had many there helping you.
AMANPOUR: Let me just read what journalist and author George Packer has written today about this in "The Atlantic."
He says: "The Biden administration has given itself almost five months. That's enough time to save Afghans who risked everything to help the United
States in their country. But that isn't enough time to save them just by speeding up the review of visa applications. These Afghans have to be
extricated from the country and taken to an overseas U.S. military base, where their cases can be heard in safety, beyond the reach of the Taliban."
Given what happened to Iraqis who put their lives on the line to help the United States -- and many of them were abandoned to their fate after the
pullout -- do you agree with Packer's take? Are you concerned about what happens to those people?
Every villager knows who they are. And if the Taliban comes knocking on their door, they're not going to have any mercy.
MCRAVEN: Yes, I do agree we need to take great care of those Afghans that went out of the way to help us in our fight in Afghanistan.
These were some remarkable patriots with incredible courage. And so I agree with Packer's assessment that we need to do something.
Now, I'd have to unpack the details of it. Can we move them to another base to adjudicate their needs about getting to the United States or finding
sanctuary elsewhere? I don't know about the details.
What I can tell you, Christiane, is, we have an obligation to these men and women who helped us. And I think that obligation is almost as important as
our obligation to the troops, the U.S. troops and our allies who are there. They were our allies, and we need to find a way to help them.
AMANPOUR: Well, those are very strong words of endorsement from you. And I do hope that they are listened to, because those people have nowhere to go.
And they helped for 20 years to do everything they could to help the United States, help their country.
MCRAVEN: And they helped and they died in that cause.
MCRAVEN: And, again, we have a moral obligation to help these people, those that helped us.
Can I ask you about your book, of course, "The Hero Code"? So you talk about a lot of elements of character, I guess, that inspire heroism, but
you also talk in context of your experience as a commander in Afghanistan.
And I want to pull a one of these paragraphs, one of the experts. You talk candidly about a tragic accident that you were involved in: "Soldiers from
my unit had surrounded the old man's compound, hoping to capture a local Taliban leader. Two of the man's sons, seeing soldiers on their roof, but
thinking they were Taliban, tried to defend themselves. The Americans fired at the men, assuming they were enemy sympathizers, and the two sons were
killed in the fight. The old man's daughter and two other women were also killed when one soldier's errant rounds went through a door and struck
You have described that as one of the most gut-wrenching episodes that you faced on the ground. Talk to us a little bit about that, but also in the
context of what we have known. I mean, I have covered Afghanistan for years, and we have seen the unacceptable level of civilian deaths, often
mistaken, we're told, for terrorist groups and organizations.
But that has been a -- sort of an unhappy badge of much of the U.S. experience there. Tell us about what went wrong.
MCRAVEN: Yes, what I will tell you, Christiane, is that every American soldier out there did everything they could to minimize civilian
When we had a mission from our special operations unit, we had 100 people kind of watching, trying to make sure that we reduced civilian casualties
to zero. The guys on the ground did everything they could to protect the innocent civilians that were there.
War rarely turns out like you would hope it would. And this was the point of that story. This, I will tell you, was one of the most tragic events,
not just in my time in Afghanistan, in my life. And I grappled with how to approach it.
But I realized that I had to go apologize to the father for this inadvertent and horrible accident that occurred. And I remember talking to
my counterpart that was with me at my command, General Salim (ph), an Afghan, and I was asking him, how am I going to -- how am I going to do
this? What do I say to the old man? How can he forgive me?
And General Salim, "Well, he will forgive you" just kind of matter-of- factly.
And I said: "I don't understand. How can he forgive me and my soldiers?"
He said: "He will forgive you because it will take the burden off him as well. It will not only relieve your burden. It will relieve his burden."
Well, frankly, I had a little trouble believing that until I went down and I apologized, a heartfelt apology, to the old man. And I will tell you, it
crushed me looking in his eyes, realizing that he had lost his children. And the old man forgave me.
And the point of the story was, of all of the noble qualities that I talk about -- and that's what heroism is. We admire our heroes because of their
noble qualities. Of all the 10 qualities that I lay out, forgiveness, I think, is the most important.
And, today, society, people in society are very easily aggrieved today. The least little slight, we take offense to, and we hang onto the anger and we
hang onto this power we think we have over the people that slighted us because we want some sort of retribution.
But the real heroes are the ones like that father. The real hero are the ones like the families from the Emanuel Church in South Carolina that
forgave Dylann Roof some of these unforgivable acts.
Man, if they can forgive, can't we find a way to forgive the small slights and maybe even the larger slights that come our way every day? I think, if
we did that, we'd find ourself a better society and better people. So, it is about forgiveness.
AMANPOUR: And that is the heart of your hero code.
Admiral William McRaven, thank you so much for joining us this day.
Now, as the United States gears up to leave Afghanistan, Afghans are bracing for what could lie ahead, as we have just been discussing, and that
might be a resurgent Taliban.
CNN has exclusive video from the Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala, giving a rare glimpse into what life is really like that.
And correspondent Nick Paton Walsh reports.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): Now America is leaving Afghanistan, after nearly two decades of blood and
treasure lost, what world does the U.S. leave behind for ordinary Afghans?
Taliban stronghold Musa Qala is where many American and British soldiers died. Now it's a snapshot of how the Taliban will run Afghanistan. We asked
six men living there, two on camera, anonymously, in safety, what it's like.
In short, bleak for women, a few smartphones, but, for all, Taliban justice and Taliban taxes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There are consequences. If you don't pay, they beat you or imprison you.
WALSH: A broadly medieval society then, considering all the billions spent, except just recently, with the odd smartphone allowed. That's how we
got pictures of the streets. Taliban roam the market U.S. Marines once patrolled 10 years ago.
The Americans were based here, a location you can see on these satellite images not far from the empty shop where the Taliban have their temporary
courts, which they call the room, dispensing swift, brutal justice.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Punishments depend on what they want. If the plaintiff gives a murder, the court might not give a sentence.
But if the relatives demand it, they may.
For example, around four years back, three thieves were hanged to death from the electricity pole on the road out of town for people to see. They
had been arrested a few times for robbery, but they did not stop.
WALSH: This footage from a drive around town heads out to the refugee camps by the river, from where U.S. Marines used to get shot at. And it's
clear few women are allowed on the streets. They still don't go to school. Nobody even dares ask about that, we're told. But most men we asked said
women had it good. This is what they meant.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They are not allowed to do business outside their house. When they go out, they need to dress
according to Sharia law. So, for them, it's more important to take care of their homes than working outside.
WALSH: Women can also get a rough justice in this backward world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): One woman pleaded guilty for adultery, and she has been in prison for the last five years now. No one
knows what will happen to her. In the end, the man caught with her was killed by his in-laws for bringing shame to his marriage.
WALSH: Fighting is rare here now, and the Americans must just watch from jets or drones above.
(on camera): In fact, we were told the Taliban only allowed some smartphones in Musa Qala, because peace talks meant that U.S. airstrikes
there had slowed down. The Americans had been using smartphones to track Taliban fighters.
(voice-over): Taliban rule in these streets means they set taxes from opium harvests or shops, we were told, or ask for bread or clothes for
their fighters when in need.
But some said feuds between Taliban groups mean people can pay more than once.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Many people have been taken to the Taliban room, locked up for a night or two or have been beaten up. There
are different groups of Taliban.
It would be better to have a single authorized official getting tax. But every group tries to take tax for their own pockets. That's one problem for
WALSH: Life, then, goes on, much as it did much before the Taliban were removed from power after 9/11. It's just a lot of Americans and Afghans
lost in the battle in between.
AMANPOUR: Nick Paton Walsh reporting there on so many of the gains that may be at risk.
Now, as a first-term senator in the 1970s, Joe Biden opposed another long- running conflict that cost Americans blood and treasure. And that was the Vietnam War.
At the time, women were considered unfit for war reporting. But three female journalists pushed their way to the front lines and opened doors for
generations of women that followed, myself included.
The story of Kate Webb, Catherine Leroy, and Frances FitzGerald has long been overlooked.
Elizabeth Becker, a former war correspondent herself, is author of "You Don't Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War."
And now Elizabeth Becker is joining me.
Welcome to the program, Elizabeth Becker.
What an amazing book.
ELIZABETH BECKER, AUTHOR, "YOU DON'T BELONG HERE: HOW THREE WOMEN REWROTE THE STORY OF WAR": Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And what an amazing story.
BECKER: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Before I get to that, I just wonder what you think and whether you see any deja vu, so to speak, because you were there too during the
Vietnam War. You know how long it took, I mean, apparently half the time of the Afghan war, but, again, a war that wasn't one and a war that the U.S.
had to pull out of, with all the trouble that the civilians faced thereafter.
BECKER: Just listening to your previous interview, I got chills, because the mission kept changing. The civilian casualties were so horrific.
And we had no idea what would happen. Of course, the surprise was how horrible it was in Cambodia. But you're right. There's too much deja vu.
AMANPOUR: We will wait to see what happens and whether, in 2021, somehow you can mitigate, I guess, what they lost in Vietnam.
AMANPOUR: But, anyway, really, really important that you have written this book.
So where did you take the title from, "You Don't Belong Here"? Let's take first things first.
BECKER: Thank you.
Directly from what happened to the women, most often to the French photojournalist Catherine Leroy. She was courageous beyond belief. She was
at first be little, considered impossible to become a photographer. So, when she started to succeed, her colleagues, all male, thought that --
thought that she shouldn't be there and told her quite blankly, "You don't belong here."
And this was part of the culture. These were journalists who -- photojournalists who we now really admire, but they -- women did not belong
on the battlefield. And they went to the length of trying to get her removed.
Through Freedom of Information Act requests, I was able to retrieve her military record, where I saw how journalists and some of the military press
men actually got her press credentials removed because -- quote -- "She didn't belong there was a woman."
AMANPOUR: Well, she got them back.
AMANPOUR: And you recount how she had just -- just like, for want of a better word, bulldozed her way into getting back the press credentials.
BECKER: Yes. Yes. Yes.
AMANPOUR: And the photos she took were amazing, including one that, at the time, we hadn't seen or America hadn't seen, a soldier in anguish at...
AMANPOUR: ... or a medic, really, at the killing of one of the G.I.s.
AMANPOUR: And I think that -- tell me about, from your experience, because, again, you were there and you were in Cambodia. What did women
bring to the table at that time? And it was the first time there were that many women reporting from the front lines, but, also, I think, from the
civilian perspective as well.
BECKER: Yes, they're true outsiders. Remember, back home in the United States, women were not allowed to get out of what was called the pink
ghetto, the women's section.
So, you come there. Most of us had no experience. We had to pay our own way. And these women, the three pioneers who got there early, they had to
break through, quite literally, find jobs, find freelance bits.
And they, as outsiders, didn't know that they were being so innovative. So they looked at the broader questions, Frances FitzGerald, most notably. She
wanted to see what the war looked like from the Vietnamese point of view, not just the American point of view.
And she thought war was more than just what was going on in the battlefield. So she brought a depth and a breadth that hadn't been there.
And it showed up in her book "Fire in the Lake," which won more awards than any book before or since about the war.
Catherine, as you said, took these amazing photographs.
BECKER: She didn't know she was being innovative as well.
BECKER: Go ahead.
AMANPOUR: Elizabeth, stand by one second, because we are going to go to President Biden at the White House, who's going to be detailing the plans
for withdrawal from Afghanistan.
And we will be back to you.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... training camps in Afghanistan.
It was just weeks, just weeks after the terrorist attack on our nation that killed 2,977 innocent souls, that turned Lower Manhattan into a disaster
area, destroyed parts of the Pentagon, and made hallowed ground of a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and sparked an American promise that we would
We went to Afghanistan in 2001 to root out Al Qaida, to prevent future terrorist attacks against the United States, planned from Afghanistan. Our
objective was clear. The cause was just. Our NATO allies and partners rallied beside us. And I supported that military action along with an
overwhelming majority of the members of Congress.
More than seven years later, in 2008, weeks before we swore the oath of office President Obama and I were about to swear, President Obama asked me
to travel to Afghanistan and report back on the state of the war in Afghanistan. I flew to Afghanistan to the Kunar Valley, a rugged,
mountainous region on the border with Pakistan. What I saw in that trip reinforced my conviction that only the Afghans have the right and
responsibility to lead their country. And that more and endless American military force could not create or sustain a durable Afghan government.
I believed that our presence in Afghanistan should be focused on the reason we went in the first place, to ensure Afghanistan would not be used as a
base from which to attack our homeland again. We did that. We accomplished that objective. I said, among with others, we would follow Osama bin Laden
to the gates of Hell, if need be. That's exactly what we did, and we got him.
BIDEN: It took us close to 10 years to put President Obama's commitment to -- into form and that's exactly what happened. Osama bin Laden was gone.
That was 10 years ago, think about that. We delivered justice to bin Laden a decade ago and we've stayed in Afghanistan for a decade since.
Since then, our reasons for remaining in Afghanistan have become increasingly unclear, even as the terrorist threat that we went to fight
evolved. Over the past 20 years, the threat has become more dispersed, metastasizing around the globe -- Al-Shabaab in Somalia, Al Qaida in the
Arabian Peninsula, Al-Nusra in Syria, ISIS attempting to create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq and establishing affiliates in multiple countries in
Africa and Asia.
With the terror threat now in many places, keeping thousands of troops grounded and concentrated in just one country at a cost of billions each
year makes little sense to me and to our leaders. We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan,
hoping to create ideal conditions for the withdrawal and expecting a different result.
I'm now the fourth United States president to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan -- two Republicans, two Democrats. I will not pass
this responsibility onto a fifth. After consulting closely with our allies and partners, with our military leaders and intelligence personnel, with
our diplomats and our development experts, with the Congress and the vice president, as well as with Mr. Ghani and many others around the world, I
concluded that it's time to end America's longest war, it's time for American troops to come home.
When I came to office, I inherited a diplomatic agreement duly negotiated between the government of the United States and the Taliban, that all U.S.
forces would be out of Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, just three months after my inauguration. That's what we inherited, that commitment.
It's perhaps not what I would have negotiated myself but it was an agreement made by the United States government, and that means something.
So in keeping with that agreement and with our national interests, the United States will begin our final withdrawal -- begin it on May 1 of this
year. We'll not conduct a hasty rush to the exit. We'll do it -- we'll do it responsibly, deliberately and safely, and we will do it in full
coordination with our allies and partners, who now have more forces in Afghanistan than we do.
The Taliban should know if they attack us as we draw down, we will defend ourselves and our partners with all the tools at our disposal. Our allies
and partners have stood beside us shoulder-to-shoulder in Afghanistan for almost 20 years and we're deeply grateful for the contributions they have
made to our shared mission and for the sacrifices they've borne.
The plan has long been in together, out together, U.S. troops as well as forces deployed by our NATO allies and operational partners. We'll be out
of Afghanistan before we mark the 20th anniversary of that heinous attack on September 11th but -- but we'll not take our eye off the terrorist
BIDEN: We'll reorganize our counterterrorism capabilities and the substantial assets in the region to prevent re-emergence of terrorists and
the threat to our homeland from over the horizon. We'll hold the Taliban accountable for its commitment not to allow any terrorist to threaten the
United States or its allies from Afghan soil.
The Afghan government has made that commitment to us, as well, and we'll focus our full attention on the threat we face today. At my direction, my
team is refining our national strategy to monitor and disrupt significant terrorist threats not only in Afghanistan, but anywhere that may arise, and
they're in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere.
I spoke yesterday with President Bush to inform him of my decision. While he and I have had many disagreements over policy throughout the years,
we're absolutely united in our respect and support for the valor, courage and integrity of the women and men of the United States Armed Forces who
served. I'm immensely grateful for the bravery and backbone that they have shown through nearly two decades of combat and deployments.
We as a nation are forever indebted to them, and to their families. You all know that less than one percent of Americans serve in our Armed Forces. The
remaining 99 percent -- and we owe them. We owe them. They've never backed down from a single mission that we've asked of them. I've witnessed their
bravery first hand during my visits to Afghanistan. They've never wavered in their resolve. They've paid a tremendous price on our behalf, and they
have the thanks of a grateful nation.
While we'll not stay involved in Afghanistan militarily, our diplomatic and humanitarian work will continue. We'll continue to support the government
of Afghanistan. We will keep providing assistance to the Afghan National Defenses and Security Forces, and along with our partners, we have trained
and equipped a standing force of over 300,000 Afghan personnel today, and hundreds of thousands over the past two decades, and they'll continue to
fight valiantly on behalf of the Afghans at great cost. They'll support peace talks, as we will support peace talks between the government of
Afghanistan and the Taliban, facilitated by the United Nations.
And we'll continue to support the rights of Afghan women and girls by maintaining significant humanitarian and development assistance, and we'll
ask other countries, other countries in the region to do more to support Afghanistan, especially Pakistan, as well as Russia, China, India and
Turkey. They all have a significant stake in a stable future for Afghanistan, and over the next few months we will also determine what a
continued U.S. diplomatic presence in Afghanistan will look like, including how we'll ensure the security of our diplomats.
Now look, I know there are many who will loudly insist that diplomacy cannot succeed without a robust U.S. military presence to stand as
leverage. We gave that argument a decade. It's never proved effective, not when we had 98,000 troops in Afghanistan, and not when we were down to a
few thousand. Our diplomacy does not hinge on having boots in harm's way, U.S. boots on the ground. We have to change that thinking. American troops
shouldn't be used as a bargaining chip between warring parties in other countries. You know, that's nothing more than a recipe for keeping American
troops in Afghanistan indefinitely.
BIDEN: I also know there are many who will argue that we should stay -- stay fighting in Afghanistan because withdrawal would damage America's
credibility or weaken America's influence in the world. I believe the exact opposite is true.
We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021. Rather than
return to war with the Taliban, we have to focus on the challenges that are in front of us. We have to track and disrupt terrorist networks and
operations that spread far beyond Afghanistan since 9/11.
We have to shore up American competitiveness to meet the stiff competition we're facing from an increasingly assertive China. We have to strengthen
our alliances and work with like-minded partners to ensure that the rules of international norms that govern cyber threats and emerging technologies
that will shape our future you are grounded in our democratic values, not those of the autocrats.
We have to defeat this pandemic and strengthen the global health system to prepare for the next one, because there will be another pandemic. You know,
we will be much more formidable to our adversaries and competitors over the long term if we fight the battles for the next 20 years, not the last 20.
And, finally, the main argument for staying longer is what each of my three predecessors have grappled with. No one wants to say that we should be in
Afghanistan forever, but they insist now is not the right moment to leave. In 2014, NATO issued a declaration affirming that Afghan security forces
would from that point on have full responsibility for their country's security by the end of that year. That was seven years ago.
So when will it be the right moment to leave? One more year? Two more years? Ten more years? Ten, 20, 30 billion dollars more than the trillion
we have already spend? Not now? That's how we got here.
In this moment, there's a significant downside risk to staying beyond May 1st without a clear timetable for departure. If we instead pursue the
approach where America, U.S. exit is tied to conditions on the ground, we have to have clear answers to the following questions. Just what conditions
are to be required to allow us to depart? By what means and how long would it take to achieve them, if they could be achieved at all? And at what
additional cost in lives and treasure?
I've not heard any good answers to these questions. And if you can't answer them, in my view, we should not stay.
The fact is that later today I'm going to visit Arlington National Cemetery, Section 60. In that sacred memorial to Americans' sacrifice,
Section 60 is where our recent war dead are buried, including many of the women and men who died fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. There's no
comforting distance in history in Section 60. The grief is raw. It's a visceral reminder of a living cost of war.
For the past 12 years, ever since I became vice president, I've carried with me a card that reminds me of the exact number of Americans troops
killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. That exact number, not an approximation or rounded-off number, because every one of those dead are sacred human beings
who left behind entire families, an exact accounting of every single, solitary one needs to be had.
BIDEN: As of the day -- today, there are 240 -- 2,488 U.S. troops and personnel who've died in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Freedoms
Sentinel, our Afghanistan conflicts. Twenty-thousand, seven-hundred and twenty-two have been wounded. I'm the first president in 40 years who knows
what it means to have a child serving in a war zone, and throughout this process, my North Star has been remembering what it was like when my late
son, Beau, was deployed to Iraq, how proud he was to serve his country, how insistent he was to deploy with his unit and the impact it had on him and
all of us at home.
We already have servicemembers doing their duty in Afghanistan today whose parents served in the same war. We have servicemembers who were not yet
born when our nation was attacked on 9/11. War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational undertaking. We were attacked. We want to
war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives. Bin Laden is dead, and Al Qaida is degraded in Iran -- in Afghanistan, and it's time to end the
Thank you all for listening. May God protect our troops, and may God bless all those families who lost someone in this endeavor.