Biden to say he won’t pass along ‘responsibility’ of Afghanistan War
President Biden on Wednesday will say that he is refusing to pass the responsibility of America’s longest war to a fifth president as he lays out his plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
Biden will call for an end to the 19-year war while pledging continued U.S. assistance to Afghanistan and support for peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
“We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result,” Biden will say, according to excerpts of prepared remarks released by the White House.
“I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth,” the president will say.
“It is time to end America’s longest war. It is time for American troops to come home,” he will add.
Biden’s speech Wednesday afternoon, being delivered in the Treaty Room of the White House where former President George W. Bush announced the start of the war, will formally unveil his decision to order all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
After his remarks, Biden will visit Arlington National Cemetery to pay his respects to the men and women in uniform who lost their lives in Afghanistan.
“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021,” Biden will say, according to his prepared remarks. “Rather than return to war with the Taliban, we have to focus on the challenges that will determine our standing and reach today and into the years to come.”
The new withdrawal date pushes back a May 1 deadline that was set in an agreement with the Taliban signed last year by the Trump administration.
But it adheres to a recent prediction from Biden, who unsuccessfully argued for a smaller troop presence in Afghanistan when he was vice president during the Obama administration, that all U.S. troops will be out by next year.
Biden’s decision has divided lawmakers, with some members of both parties warning that leaving Afghanistan too quickly could cause conditions to worsen in the war-torn country.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a critic of both Biden’s and former President Trump’s efforts to withdraw U.S. forces from the war, is scheduled to deliver a response to Biden’s address Wednesday afternoon, his office said.
But progressive lawmakers and some anti-interventionist Republicans are praising Biden for what would be a historic achievement if he completes the withdrawal and ends U.S. military involvement in the war.
Both Trump and former President Obama sought to pull the United States out of Afghanistan, but were thwarted by bipartisan opposition and warnings from military advisers of dire consequences of a U.S. withdrawal.
Without a peace agreement between the Taliban and Afghan government, critics say, a U.S. military withdrawal could mean a return to full-scale civil war and eventual collapse of the government in Kabul.
In his speech on Wednesday, Biden will pledge to continue diplomatic and humanitarian work even as the military withdraws.
“We will keep providing assistance to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. Along with our partners, we are training and equipping nearly 300,000 personnel. And they continue to fight valiantly on behalf of their country and defend the Afghan people, at great cost,” he will say. “We will support peace talks between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, facilitated by the United Nations.”
Biden’s decision comes as his administration looks to focus its attention on emerging foreign policy challenges posed by China and Russia and to prioritize his domestic agenda as the U.S. grapples with economic and health effects of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Biden will say that the announcement comes after consultations with allies, members of Congress, and military and intelligence officials — some of whom are testifying before the Senate on Wednesday as part of a regular worldwide threats hearing.
In advance of the hearing, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report Tuesday that found “prospects for a peace deal will remain low during the next year.”
“The Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield, and the Afghan Government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support,” the annual unclassified worldwide threats assessment said.
Both Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken were in Brussels on Wednesday briefing NATO officials on Biden’s decision. NATO countries have about 7,000 troops in Afghanistan that are expected to leave in coordination with the U.S. withdrawal.
“I’m here to work closely with our allies, with the secretary general, on the principle that we’ve established from the start: in together, adapt together and out together,” Blinken said ahead of his meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. “We will work very closely together in the weeks and months ahead on a safe, deliberate and coordinated withdrawal of our forces from Afghanistan, but even as we do that, our commitment to Afghanistan, to its future, will remain, and we’ll talk about that today as well.”
— Updated at 10:34 a.m.