Biden announces plan to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by September 11th

US president says it is time to end ‘America’s longest war’ as he confirms move

US president Joe Biden declared from the White House that he would withdraw the remaining few thousand US troops in Afghanistan by September 11th and refocus American attention elsewhere, after two decades of conflict. Video: Reuters

 

US president Joe Biden has announced a plan to withdraw all remaining US troops from Afghanistan, formally ending the 20-year, largely unsuccessful American effort to remake the country.

Mr Biden declared from the White House on Wednesday afternoon local time that he would withdraw the remaining few thousand US troops in Afghanistan by September 11th and refocus American attention elsewhere.

Mr Biden said the process of withdrawing the troops would begin on May 1st, and would be complete by the time the US marks the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks on September 11th, 2001, which precipitated the US invasion.

“It’s time to end America’s longest war,” he said. “It’s time for America’s troops to come home.’’ But he warned the Taliban that if American forces are attacked on the way out of the country, “we’re going to defend ourselves and our partners with all the tools at our disposal”.

Speaking from the Treaty Room in the White House, Mr Biden made the case that the US had only one real task in Afghanistan: ousting terror group al-Qaeda and making sure that the country would not be used as the launching pad for terror attacks on the US.

In announcing his decision, the president made only passing mention of the other objectives that had been used over the years to justify the continued American military presence there: building a stable democracy, eradicating corruption and the drug trade, assuring an education for girls and opportunities for women, and supporting peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

All were noble goals, he suggested, but keeping American troops in the country until they were accomplished was a formula for a perpetual presence. He noted the US had long since achieved its goal of killing al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who had been based in the country. “We delivered justice to bin Laden a decade ago,” Mr Biden said. “And we’ve stayed in Afghanistan for a decade since.”

Saying he was the fourth president to deal with the question of troops in Afghanistan, he added: “I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.”

The Afghan war was not only the longest in American history, it was one of the costliest – costing more than $2 trillion in total. Nearly 2,400 American service members were killed in the conflict, and more than 20,700 wounded.

And while the US accomplished the key strategic objective that led then president George W Bush to order the invasion of the country in October 2001 – namely, ousting al-Qaeda and preventing it from using Afghanistan’s mountains and deserts to launch attacks on the US – few of the broader, shifting goals of building the nation proved lasting.

‘Conditions based’

Mr Biden is the first president to have rejected the Pentagon’s recommendations that any withdrawal be “conditions based”, meaning that security would have to be assured on the ground before Americans pulled back. To do otherwise, military officials have long argued, would be to signal to the Taliban to just wait out the American forces – after which, they would face little opposition to taking further control of Afghanistan, and perhaps threatening Kabul, the capital.

But some architects of the US’s Afghanistan policy agreed that it was time to go. Douglas Lute, a retired general who ran Afghan policy on the National Security Council for Mr Bush and then for president Barack Obama, wrote for CNN with Charles Kupchan on Wednesday that “those who argue that we need to stay in Afghanistan to thwart attacks against the homeland are wrong”, because the terror threat from inside the country “has been dramatically reduced in the last 20 years”.

And Mr Biden has made clear that Afghanistan has become a drain on resources and attention, at a moment he wants to focus on inequality and investments in infrastructure and new technology at home, and on threats from China and other adversaries. – New York Times