President Joe Biden does not believe that the country should be "fighting and dying" in a war for the purpose of sustaining American military boots near Tajikistan or Pakistan or Iran, his National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has said, defending the president's decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan.
President Biden in April announced that all American troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September 11 this year, thus bringing to end the country's longest war, spanning across two decades. The US has already pulled back the majority of its forces and is looking to complete the drawdown by August 31.
"I would say that the President does not believe that the United States should be fighting and dying in a war for the purpose of sustaining American military boots near Tajikistan or Pakistan or Iran," Sullivan told reporters at a White House news conference on Tuesday.
"We would not agree that it is right to ask American soldiers to risk their lives for the purpose of maintaining a presence near Tajikistan," he said in response to a question.
Responding to a question, Sullivan agreed that some of the US weapons have landed in the hands of the Taliban and the Afghan National Security Forces have basically dismantled them.
"We don't have a complete picture, obviously, of where every article of defence materials has gone, but certainly a fair amount of it has fallen into the hands of the Taliban. And obviously, we don't have a sense that they are going to readily hand it over to us at the airport," Sullivan said.
"The Afghan Security Forces appear to have, essentially, no longer operate as a coherent entity. They essentially have given way to Taliban physical security control over the major population centres," he said.
Responding to a question, the national security advisor indicated that the US is in talks with other friends and allies on a global response to the actions against the Taliban.
"Standing here today, I am not going to go into the full panoply of things that we can do, but there are obviously issues related to sanctions, to marshalling international condemnation and isolation, and other steps as well," he said.
"But the reason I don't want to go into great detail on it is, I want to be able to have our team communicate directly to the Taliban both what the costs and disincentives are for certain types of action and what our expectations are. That is a conversation that we will intend to have, and I think many other countries, including like-minded allies and partners, will be having that as well," Sullivan said.
The Biden administration, he said, is engaging diplomatically, at the same time, with allies and regional countries and with the United Nations to address the situation in Afghanistan.
"We are in contact with the Taliban to ensure the safe passage of people to the airport. We are monitoring for any potential terrorist threats, as I just mentioned, including from ISIS-K. We intend to continue these operations over the coming days before completing our drawdown," he said.
Acknowledging that the images from the past couple of days at the airport have been heartbreaking, he insisted that Biden had to think about the human costs of the alternative path as well, which was to stay in the middle of a civil conflict in Afghanistan.
"There are those who argue that with 2,500 forces -- the number of forces in-country when President Biden took office -- we could have sustained a stable, peaceful Afghanistan. That is simply wrong. The previous administration drew down from 15,000 troops to 2,500. And even at 15,000, the Afghan government forces were losing ground," he said.
"What has unfolded over the past month has proven decisively that it would have taken a significant American troop presence, multiple times greater than what President Biden was handed, to stop a Taliban onslaught. And we would have taken casualties. American men and women would have been fighting and dying once again in Afghanistan, and President Biden was not prepared to send additional forces or ask any American personnel to do that over the period ahead," Sullivan said.
The Taliban on Sunday declared victory after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and his government collapsed. The militants' return to rule brings an end to almost 20 years of a US-led coalition's presence in the country.