US President Joe Biden speaks during remarks on the implementation of the American Rescue Plan in the State Dining room of the White House in Washington, DC on March 15, 2021.
Eric Baradat | AFP | Getty Images
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he will withdraw U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan by September 11, ending America’s role in what has become its longest war.
The removal of approximately 3,000 American servicemembers coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks which spurred America’s entry into lengthy wars in the Middle East.
“It is time to end America’s longest war,” Biden said. “It is time for American troops to come home.”
Biden said that he coordinated his decision with international partners and allies as well as with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The withdrawal of U.S. troops will begin on May 1. Following his remarks, Biden said he would visit Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ghani said he spoke with Biden and respects the U.S. decision to withdraw its forces. Ghani said Afghanistan’s military is “fully capable of defending its people and country.”
A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Tuesday that the orderly withdrawal of U.S. and foreign troops from the war-torn country could happen well before September. The official added that Washington is prepared to “strike back hard” if American troops are attacked ahead of the September departure.
CIA Director William Burns acknowledged in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday that Washington’s ability to act on threats will be diminished by the U.S. withdrawal. However, Burns said some U.S. capabilities will remain in place.
“When the time comes for the U.S. military to withdraw, the U.S. government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish. That’s simply a fact,” Burns said.
“It is also a fact, however, that after withdrawal, whenever that time comes, the CIA and all of our partners in the U.S. government will retain a suite of capabilities, some of them remaining in place, some of them that we will generate, that can help us to anticipate and contest any rebuilding effort,” Burns said.
Lance Cpl. Patrick Reeder, with Combined Anti-Armor Team 2, patrols in 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 usher in a permanent cease-fire and reduce further the U.S. military’s footprint from approximately 13,000 troops to 8,600 by mid-July last year.
By May 2021, all foreign forces would leave Afghanistan, according to the deal. The majority of troops in the country are from Europe and partner nations. About 2,500 U.S. service members are now in Afghanistan.
Under the agreement, the Taliban promised to not let terrorist groups use Afghanistan as a base to launch attacks against the U.S. or its allies and agreed to conduct peace talks with the central government in Kabul.
The White House, when pressed Wednesday about whether the Taliban will use the U.S. withdrawal to topple the central government in Kabul, said it expects the militant group to abide by its commitments.
“We have an expectation that the Taliban is going to abide by their commitments and that they are not going to allow Afghanistan to become a pariah state. That’s our view, that’s also in their interests,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
However, the Taliban said earlier this week that it will not attend a summit on Afghanistan in Turkey set for later this month and will not attend any conference until foreign forces leave the country.
Last month, Biden told reporters during his first press conference that he could not yet commit to the May 1 deadline. “It’s going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline,” Biden said, adding, “it is not my intention to stay there for a long time.”
When asked if U.S. service members would remain in Afghanistan another year, Biden said he did not see that being the case.
“We are not staying a long time. We will leave, the question is when we leave,” the president said, adding that his administration was in consultations with NATO allies and partners in the region.
The announcement to leave Afghanistan comes on the heels of 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 troops in the country.
“Our allies and partners have stood beside us shoulder to shoulder in Afghanistan for almost 20 years and we are deeply grateful for the contributions they have made to our shared mission,” Biden said. “The plan has long been in together and out together.”
The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have cost U.S. taxpayers more than $1.57 trillion collectively since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a Defense Department report.