So I’m left again to ask of those who argue that we should stay: How many more generations of America’s daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghanistan’s civil war when Afghan troops will not? How many more lives, American lives, is it worth, how many endless rows of headstones at Arlington National Cemetery? I’m clear on my answer: I will not repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past. The mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely in a conflict that is not in the national interest of the United States, of doubling down on a civil war in a foreign country, of attempting to remake a country through the endless military deployments of U.S. forces. Those are the mistakes we cannot continue to repeat because we have significant vital interest in the world that we cannot afford to ignore.
I also want to acknowledge how painful this is to so many of us. The scenes that we’re seeing in Afghanistan, they’re gut-wrenching, particularly for our veterans, our diplomats, humanitarian workers — for anyone who has spent time on the ground working to support the Afghan people. For those who have lost loved ones in Afghanistan, and for Americans who have fought and served our country in Afghanistan, this is deeply, deeply personal. It is for me as well.
I’ve worked on these issues as long as anyone. I’ve been throughout Afghanistan during this war, while the war was going on, from Kabul to Kandahar, to the Kunar Valley. I’ve traveled there on four different occasions. I’ve met with the people. I’ve spoken with the leaders. I spent time with our troops, and I came to understand firsthand what was and was not possible in Afghanistan. So now we’re focused on what is possible.
We will continue to support the Afghan people. We will lead with our diplomacy, our international influence and our humanitarian aid. We’ll continue to push for regional diplomacy and engagement to prevent violence and instability. We’ll continue to speak out for the basic rights of the Afghan people, of women and girls, just as we speak out all over the world.
I’ve been clear, the human rights must be the center of our foreign policy, not the periphery. But the way to do it is not through endless military deployments. It’s with our diplomacy, our economic tools and rallying the world to join us.
Let me lay out the current mission in Afghanistan: I was asked to authorize, and I did, 6,000 U.S. troops to deploy to Afghanistan for the purpose of assisting in the departure of U.S. and allied civilian personnel from Afghanistan, and to evacuate our Afghan allies and vulnerable Afghans to safety outside of Afghanistan. Our troops are working to secure the airfield and ensure continued operation on both the civilian and military flights. We’re taking over air traffic control. We have safely shut down our embassy and transferred our diplomats. Our diplomatic presence is now consolidated at the airport as well.
Over the coming days we intend to transport out thousands of American citizens who have been living and working in Afghanistan. We’ll also continue to support the safe departure of civilian personnel — the civilian personnel of our allies who are still serving in Afghanistan. Operation Allies Refuge, which I announced back in July, has already moved 2,000 Afghans who are eligible for special immigration visas and their families to the United States. In the coming days, the U.S. military will provide assistance to move more S.I.V.-eligible Afghans and their families out of Afghanistan.