So I have to ask again to those who argue that we should stay: How many more generations of American daughters and sons do you want me to send to fight the civil war in Afghanistan if the Afghan troops don’t? How many more lives, American lives, is it worth, how many endless rows of headstones in Arlington National Cemetery? I am clear in my answer: I will not repeat the mistakes we have made in the past. The mistake of staying indefinitely in a conflict that is not in the national interest of the United States, of doubling up on a civil war in a foreign country, of trying to remake a country through the endless military deployment of American troops. Those are the mistakes we can’t keep repeating because we have a significant vital interest in the world that we can’t afford to ignore.
I also want to acknowledge how painful this is for so many of us. The scenes we see in Afghanistan are heartbreaking, especially for our veterans, our diplomats, humanitarian workers – for anyone who has spent time on the ground supporting the Afghan people. For those who lost loved ones in Afghanistan, and for Americans who fought and served our country in Afghanistan, this is deeply, deeply personal. It’s for me too.
I’ve been working on these issues for as long as anyone. I’ve been all over Afghanistan during this war, while the war was going on, from Kabul to Kandahar, to the Kunar Valley. I’ve been there four times. I’ve met the people. I have spoken to the leaders. I spent time with our troops and began to understand firsthand what was and was not possible in Afghanistan. So now we’re focused on what’s possible.
We will continue to support the Afghan people. We will lead with our diplomacy, our international influence and our humanitarian aid. We will continue to push for regional diplomacy and engagement to prevent violence and instability. We will continue to speak out for the basic rights of the Afghan people, of women and girls, just as we speak out around the world.
I have been clear, human rights should be the center of our foreign policy, not the periphery. But the way to do this is not through endless military deployment. It is with our diplomacy, our economic instruments and the gathering of the world to join us.
Let me outline the current mission in Afghanistan: I was asked to authorize, and I have done so, 6,000 US troops to be sent to Afghanistan for the purpose of assisting the departure of US and allied civilian personnel from Afghanistan, and Afghan allies to evacuate and vulnerable Afghans to safety outside Afghanistan. Our forces are working to secure the airport and ensure the operation continues on both civilian and military flights. We’re taking over air traffic control. We have safely closed our embassy and transferred our diplomats. Our diplomatic presence is now also consolidated at the airport.
In the coming days, we plan to transport thousands of American citizens who have lived and worked in Afghanistan. We will also continue to support the safe departure of civilian personnel – the civilian personnel of our allies who still serve in Afghanistan. Operation Allies Refuge, which I announced in July, has already moved 2,000 Afghans eligible for special immigration visas and their families to the United States. In the coming days, the US military will provide assistance to get more Afghans eligible for SIV and their families out of Afghanistan.