Former President George W. Bush has said he feels “deep sadness” at the dramatic fall of the U.S.-backed Afghan government but expressed confidence that the chaotic evacuation operation will succeed.

The architect of the original 2001 American invasion of Afghanistan and former First Lady Laura Bush paid tribute to those who fought and died in the country during the past two decades.

“Our hearts are heavy for both the Afghan people who have suffered so much and the Americans and NATO allies who have sacrificed so much,” the Bushes said in a statement issued late Monday.

Bush urged the U.S. to swiftly “cut the red tape” to get Afghan allies out of the nation now controlled by the Taliban.

“We have the responsibility and the resources to secure safe passage for them now, without bureaucratic delay,” Bush said in his statement.

The former president pointedly avoided criticizing President Biden for the unconditional withdrawal from Afghanistan even though he earlier expressed deep misgivings about it.

“Let us all resolve to stay united in saving lives and praying for the Afghan people,” Bush said.

Bush spoke as the White House announced a $500 million plan to help resettle Afghan refugees.

U.S. officials have said thousands of Americans and Western aid workers and tens of thousands of Afghan allies remain stranded in the country.

Biden fiercely defended his decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan in a speech to the nation on Monday amidst global criticism of the airport evacuation in Kabul that ended in chaos.

The president acknowledged that the government collapsed much faster than anyone expected but insisted that keeping American troops in Afghanistan longer would have only put off the inevitable.

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