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Biden touts Afghan withdrawal: 'American leadership means ending the forever war'

Biden touts Afghan withdrawal: 'American leadership means ending the forever war'
© Washington Post/Pool

President BidenJoe BidenBiden says Beau's assessment of first 100 days would be 'Be who you are' Biden: McCarthy's support of Cheney ouster is 'above my pay grade' Conservative group sues over prioritization of women, minorities for restaurant aid MORE touted his planned withdrawal from Afghanistan on Wednesday night during his first address to Congress, declaring that “American leadership means ending the forever war" to a standing ovation from Democratic lawmakers in attendance.

“After 20 years of American valor and sacrifice, it’s time to bring those troops home,” he added to more applause from the Democratic side.

Biden’s comments on Afghanistan on Wednesday night largely echoed his speech earlier this month announcing the withdrawal, but served to deliver the message to a primetime audience in a speech meant to tout how America is “on the move again.”

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Biden has ordered a full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan to be completed by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that sparked America’s longest war. Under Biden’s orders, the 2,500 or so U.S. troops still in the country are officially set to start withdrawing Saturday.

After Biden’s announcement, Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. general in the Middle East, offered a grim assessment of Afghan forces’ ability to stand on their own and prevent a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. But Biden’s top envoy for peace talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, offered a more optimistic assessment.

As he did when he announced the withdrawal, Biden on Wednesday argued that the United States has accomplished the goal it set out to when it first invaded Afghanistan.

“We went to Afghanistan to get the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11,” Biden said. “And we said we would follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell to do it. ... And we delivered justice to bin Laden. We degraded the terrorist threat of al Qaeda in Afghanistan.”

Going off script from his prepared remarks, Biden also commented that "if you've been to the upper Kunar Valley" -- one of the hardest-fought regions of Afghanistan that he visited as a senator in 2008 -- "you've kind of seen the gates of hell."

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Invoking his late son Beau Biden, the president also said he’s “the first president in 40 years who knows what it means to have had a child serving in a warzone.”

“Today we have service members serving in the same war as their parents once did. We have service members in Afghanistan who were not yet born on 9/11,” he continued. “War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multi-generational undertaking of nation-building.”

Still, Biden stressed the U.S. military would retain the ability to strike threats in Afghanistan from afar, pledging that “we will maintain an over-the-horizon capability to suppress future threats to the homeland.”

McKenzie has said he is working on those options and that while it will be more difficult to conduct counterterrorism operations without troops in Afghanistan it is “not impossible.”

“Make no mistake, in 20 years terrorist has terrorism has metastasized. The threat has evolved way beyond Afghanistan,” Biden added Wednesday. “Those of you on the Intelligence committees, the Foreign Relations Committee, defense committees, you know well we have to remain vigilant against the threats United States wherever they come from. Al Qaeda and ISIS are in Yemen, Syria, Somalia, other places in Africa in the Middle East and beyond.”