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

President Joe Biden speaks about the end of the war in Afghanistan at the White House on Aug. 31, 2021.
Evan Vucci
President Joe Biden speaks about the end of the war in Afghanistan at the White House on Aug. 31, 2021.

President Biden just addressed the nation on his decision to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31. Here are the highlights:

Update at 4 p.m. ET:

Responding to critics of his decision to withdraw the remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan, 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 costs, an estimated $300 million a day, as well as the human costs of veterans and their families, including he said, the 18 veterans who die by suicide each day.

"There is nothing low grade or low risk or low cost about any war," Biden said, adding, "It is time to end the war in Afghanistan."

Update at 3:50 p.m. ET:

Biden said the U.S. achieved its original goal in Afghanistan a decade ago by hunting down Osama bin Laden, 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 that "we don't need to fight a ground war to do it."

"The war in Afghanistan is now over," he declared.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki says Biden will thank commanders and service members who helped evacuate more than 124,000 people out of Afghanistan in recent weeks as well as "lay out his decision to end the war in Afghanistan after 20 years, including the tough decisions he made over the last seven months since he took office to bring the war to a close."

The president, Psaki said, will make clear that "he will approach our foreign policy through the prism of what is in our national interests, including how best to continue to keep the American people safe."

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

The withdrawal from Afghanistan was also anything but smooth. Thirteen American service members and an estimated 170 Afghans were killed by a suicide bomber at a gate at the Kabul airport last week. In response, a U.S. drone strike had targeted suspected ISIS-K militants; the group had claimed responsibility for the attack. Now the U.S. military says it is looking into reports that up to 10 civilians were killed when the U.S. carried out another strike Sunday on a vehicle near the airport.

In a statement Monday, Biden said there was a unanimous recommendation by the U.S. military to end the airlift mission as planned.

"Their view was that ending our military mission was the best way to protect the lives of our troops and secure the prospects of civilian departures for those who want to leave Afghanistan in the weeks and months ahead," Biden said.

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

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Monday that fewer than 200 American citizens remained in the country and that the U.S. would "continue our relentless efforts to help Americans, foreign nationals and Afghans to leave Afghanistan, if they choose."

Biden criticized for pulling out U.S. troops before all Americans exited

Sen Ben Sasse, R- Neb., said in a statement, "The President made the morally indefensible decision to leave Americans behind. Dishonor was the President's choice. May history never forget this cowardice."

The comment is broadly reflective of the criticism Biden has faced — from Republicans and Democrats — on the manner in which the withdrawal was carried out.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin released a statement Monday night, thanking "all those who labored so hard and under such difficult circumstances over the past few weeks."

Austin noted the toll of the military's two-decade-long presence in Afghanistan. "We lost 2,461 troops in that war, and tens of thousands of others suffered wounds, seen and unseen," he said.

"The scars of combat don't heal easily, and often never heal at all."

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NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.
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