WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden said Wednesday he would withdraw US combat forces from Afghanistan by September 11, ending America’s longest war.
The removal of approximately 3,000 American service members coincides with the 20th anniversary of September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that spurred America’s entry into protracted wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.
“It’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for American troops to come home,” said Biden in his televised address from the White House treaty room, in which former President George W. Bush took military action against Al Qaeda and the US announced the Taliban in October 2001.
“I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass that responsibility on to a fifth,” said Biden, adding that the US mission is solely about providing aid be dedicated to Afghanistan and support diplomacy.
During his address, Biden cited the military service of his own son Beau Biden, who was stationed in Iraq for a year and later died of cancer in 2015. He is the first president in 40 years to have a child in the US military and serving in a war zone.
The president said the US achieved its goals a decade ago when it killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda – the terrorist group that started the 9/11 attacks. Since then, the US’s reasons for staying in Afghanistan have become unclear as the terrorist threat has spread around the world, Biden said.
“Given the terrorist threat in many places, it makes little sense to me and our leaders to keep thousands of troops in just one country and concentrate them, which costs billions each year,” said Biden. “We cannot continue the cycle of expanding or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan in the hope of creating ideal conditions for withdrawal and expecting a different outcome.”
Biden said he coordinated his decision with international partners and allies as well as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and spoke with former President Bush. The withdrawal of US troops will begin on May 1st. Following his presentation, Biden said he would visit Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In a statement following Biden’s speech, former President Barack Obama said the United States had “done everything we can militarily and it was time to bring our remaining troops home”.
Ghani said he respected the US decision to withdraw its forces and that the Afghan military was “fully in a position to defend its people and country”.
Biden warned the Taliban that the US would protect itself and its partners from attack if it withdrew its forces in the coming months. The president said the US would reorganize its counter-terrorism capabilities and assets in the region to prevent another terrorist threat from emerging.
“My team is refining our national strategy to monitor and disrupt significant terrorist threats not just in Afghanistan but everywhere they can occur, in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere,” said Biden.
However, CIA Director William Burns admitted Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee that Washington’s ability to respond to threats from Afghanistan will be affected by the US withdrawal. Burns said some U.S. capabilities will remain.
“When the time comes for the US military to withdraw, the US government’s ability to gather and respond to threats will decline. That’s just a fact,” Burns said.
However, it is also a fact that after the withdrawal, whenever the CIA and all of our partners in the US government do so, they will retain a number of capabilities, some of which will remain, others will be generated by us can help us anticipate and contest reconstruction, “said Burns.
Lance Cpl. Patrick Reeder, with Combined Anti-Armor Team 2, patrols Nawa district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Oct. 28, 2009.
Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. James Purschwitz
In February 2020, the Trump administration brokered a deal with the Taliban that would initiate a permanent ceasefire and further reduce the US military’s footprint from around 13,000 soldiers to 8,600 by mid-July last year.
According to the agreement, all foreign forces would have left Afghanistan by May 2021. The majority of the troops in the country come from Europe and partner countries. About 2,500 US soldiers are now in Afghanistan.
Under the agreement, the Taliban pledged to prevent terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base for attacks against the US or its allies and agreed to hold peace talks with the central government in Kabul. Biden said the US would keep the Taliban by its commitments.
“We will hold the Taliban accountable for their commitment not to allow terrorists to threaten the United States or its allies from Afghan soil. The Afghan government has made that commitment to us too, and we will pay our full attention to the US judge.” Threat we face today, “said Biden.
However, the peace process suffered a setback this week when the Taliban said they would not attend a summit on Afghanistan in Turkey scheduled for later this month and will not attend a conference until foreign forces leave the country.
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The announcement to leave Afghanistan follows a Wednesday meeting between NATO allies and Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. NATO joined the international security effort in Afghanistan in 2003 and currently has more than 7,000 soldiers in the country.
“Our allies and partners have stood shoulder to shoulder in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years, and we are deeply grateful for the contributions they have made to our common mission,” said Biden. “The plan has long been together and out together.”
NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg testified on Wednesday from the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels that the “drawdown will be orderly, coordinated and deliberate”.
“We went to Afghanistan together, we adjusted our stance together and we agreed to go together,” said Stoltenberg, adding that “all Taliban attacks on our troops during this period will be met with a vigorous response.”
The NATO mission in Afghanistan began after the alliance first activated its mutual defense clause known as Article 5 following the 9/11 attacks.
According to a Department of Defense report, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have combined cost US taxpayers more than $ 1.57 trillion since September 11, 2001. More than 2,000 US soldiers have died in Afghanistan.
– CNBC’s Spencer Kimball contributed to this report.