Biden to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11
President Biden will withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that led to the longest war in American history.
Two congressional aides briefed on the plan confirmed the news to The Hill. A senior administration official later told reporters the United States “will begin an orderly drawdown of the remaining forces before May 1 and plan to have all U.S. troops out of the country before the 20th anniversary of 9/11.”
“We judge the threat against the homeland now emanating from Afghanistan to be at a level that we can address it without a persistent military footprint in the country and without remaining at war with the Taliban,” the official added.
The plan, which Biden is expected to formally announce Wednesday, pushes back a May withdrawal deadline that was set in a deal with the Taliban signed by the Trump administration last year.
But it sets a new formal deadline of Sept. 11, 2021, in line with Biden’s recent prediction that U.S. troops will be out of Afghanistan by next year.
The new deadline was first reported by The Washington Post.
The Biden administration has telegraphed for weeks it would not adhere to the May 1 deadline set in the U.S.-Taliban deal, if only because of the logistical challenges of moving out thousands of troops and their equipment in a short time frame.
But Biden, who unsuccessfully argued for a smaller troop presence in Afghanistan during the Obama administration, stressed he didn’t intend to keep troops there much longer than May.
“It’s going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline,” Biden said at a news conference last month. “If we leave, we’re going to do so in a safe and orderly way.”
But asked if U.S. troops will be in Afghanistan next year, Biden said he “can’t picture that being the case.”
“We are not staying a long time,” he said. “We will leave, the question is when we leave.”
Officially, the United States has about 2,500 troops remaining in Afghanistan, the number left there by former President Trump who continued drawing down despite military advice to the contrary.
Under the deal with the Taliban, the U.S. withdrawal is supposed to be contingent on the insurgents meeting certain commitments, including breaking from al Qaeda and reducing violence in the country. But U.S. military officials have repeatedly said the Taliban has yet to uphold its commitments.
While the Taliban has increased attacks on Afghan forces since signing the deal, it has largely refrained from attacks on U.S. and NATO troops.
But the Taliban has threatened to resume attacks if troops do not withdraw by May. And in recent weeks, it has taken credit for rocket attacks that landed near two bases housing U.S. troops, a change apparently meant to pressure Biden as he decided whether to withdraw.
“We have told the Taliban in no uncertain terms that any attacks on U.S. troops as we undergo a safe and orderly withdrawal will be met with a forceful response,” the senior administration official said Tuesday.
As Biden deliberated, outside experts and some officials and lawmakers warned a U.S. withdrawal without a peace deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban could cause Afghanistan to descend into full-scale civil war and eventually lead to the collapse of the Afghan government.
The Biden administration has been working to reinvigorate faltering peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, including backing a peace conference in Turkey later this month seen as integral to the administration’s efforts. The Taliban has yet to agree to attend the conference.
Biden also faced pressure from the progressive wing of his party to end U.S. military involvement in America’s longest war.
Those progressives hailed the news that Biden will commit to withdrawing by September.
“I applaud President Biden for achieving an impossibility here in Washington: ending a forever war,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said in a statement Tuesday. “It is an act of extraordinary political courage and vision. After 20 years, thousands of lives lost, and trillions of dollars spent, we are finally bringing home our troops from Afghanistan.”
But setting a withdrawal date months in the future also leaves open the possibility of continuing to push it back when the deadline gets closer.
Former President Obama repeatedly announced withdrawal deadlines only to push them back on the advice of military advisers and amid criticism from Republicans and some Democrats of withdrawing based on the calendar instead of conditions on the ground.
The senior Biden administration official insisted Tuesday the deadline is set in stone.
“This is not conditions-based,” the official said. “The president has judged that a conditions-based approach, which has been the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever.”
“President Biden will give our military commanders the time and space they need to conduct a safe and orderly withdrawal, not just of U.S. forces but of allied forces, as well, on the principle of ‘in together, out together,’” the official added. “And so, we will take the time we need to execute that, and no more time than that.”
But Biden is liable to face that same pressure to stay that plagued his predecessors and was already receiving criticism from Republicans after news broke Tuesday of his planned announcement.
“I am shocked and extremely concerned by reports of President Biden’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by September,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. “This premature withdrawal shows a complete disregard for the realities on the ground, and will not only put Afghans at risk, but endanger the lives of U.S. citizens at home and abroad. I have urgently requested details on this decision and strongly urge the President to reconsider.”
– Updated at 3:45 p.m.
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