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Biden Vows to 'End America's Longest War' in Afghanistan

Biden Vows to 'End America's Longest War' in Afghanistan
(David Goldman/AP)

Wednesday, 14 April 2021 02:44 PM

President Joe Biden announced Wednesday afternoon that the U.S. will begin its final withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan on May 1.

In his speech, he said the nation's forces will be out of Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, declaring that it’s “time for America’s troops to come home.”

“We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result,” Biden will say, according to excerpts of the speech released by the White House.

Biden will announce the withdrawal — in conjunction with NATO forces — from the Treaty Room of the White House, where President George W. Bush announced the beginning of U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan almost two decades ago. After speaking, the president will travel to Arlington National Cemetery to visit Section 60, the final resting place for U.S. troops who died in the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.

The events are intended to underscore the scope of the country’s longest armed conflict, and Biden will say that he’s unwilling to pass responsibility to another U.S. president.

“It is time to end America’s longest war,” Biden will say.

The September deadline isn’t “conditions-based” and could be completed early, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity Tuesday. The official said Biden’s administration concluded it could address any terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan from elsewhere.

Troop Levels

There are currently more than 2,500 U.S. troops in the country, working alongside about 7,000 allied forces.

The new deadline means Biden will leave a few thousand troops in the war-torn country beyond the May 1 target set in an agreement between the Trump administration and the Taliban last year. Biden had signaled he viewed that original deadline as “tough” to meet given continuing violence in the country and a lack of progress in peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

The only U.S. forces remaining in the country will be to protect U.S. diplomats in Afghanistan, but the administration still hasn’t decided on the size and scope of its diplomatic presence or the accompanying military footprint, the official said.

In delaying the troop removal, Biden risks Taliban-led retaliation for breaking the cease-fire agreement struck during the Trump administration, and political fallout from an American public weary from the two-decade long war. But military and diplomatic leaders had said a rushed withdrawal could destabilize the country, leaving allied troops at risk and risking a resurgence of terrorist groups.

‘Deliberate’ Withdrawal

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Brussels on Wednesday, meeting with leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as they worked to coordinate the drawdown. Blinken said the U.S. would seek “a safe, deliberate, and coordinated withdrawal.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance welcomed the opportunity to consult on the decision and “agree on our future presence in Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan’s parliament speaker Mir Rahman Rahmani warned on Wednesday that the troop withdrawal will lead to a “dangerous civil war and Afghanistan will once again become a geography of international terrorism.”

Abdullah Abdullah, the head of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, told reporters on Wednesday that he did “not think the world support will end with the announcement of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by 9/11.”

Lawmakers React

Biden’s decision was met with mixed reaction on Capitol Hill, with criticism — and support — cutting across party lines.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said the withdrawal is “dumber than dirt and devilishly dangerous.

“A residual counterterrorism force would be an insurance policy against the rise of radical Islam in Afghanistan that could pave the way for another attack against our homeland or our allies,” Graham said.

Senator Jack Reed, the Rhode Island Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he believes the U.S. would need to maintain a presence in the region “for regional stability.” Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, tweeted her disappointment with the announcement.

But other lawmakers applauded the decision.

“President Biden recognizes the reality that our continued presence there does not make the U.S. or the world safer,” Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in a statement. “Year after year, military leaders told Congress and the American people that we were finally turning the corner in Afghanistan, but ultimately we were only turning in a vicious circle.”

And Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, told CNN he’s ”glad the troops are coming home.”

Taliban Strength

Beyond ousting the Taliban, who were hosting al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden when the U.S. entered the war, the Pentagon has struggled to sustain gains in Afghanistan over the past two decades. The Taliban are at their strongest since being forced from power, opium production remains high, and President Ashraf Ghani’s government has seen its legitimacy erode as it loses control of swaths of the countryside.

Violence has even climbed since peace talks started in September of last year, including targeted killings of journalists, civil society members and politicians. In 2020, 8,820 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded, according to the United Nations.

Biden’s announcement has thrown into doubt a U.S.-backed peace conference in Istanbul that representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban were due to attend from April 24.

The Taliban said in a tweet late Tuesday that it wouldn’t participate. “Until all foreign forces completely withdraw from our homeland, the Islamic Emirate will not participate in any conference that shall make decisions about Afghanistan,” wrote Mohammad Naeem, a spokesman from the group’s Doha political office.

A report on worldwide threats issued by U.S. intelligence agencies on Tuesday forecast that “prospects for a peace deal will remain low during the next year. The Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield, and the Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support.”

© Copyright 2021 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.


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President Joe Biden announced Wednesday afternoon that the U.S. will begin its final withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan on May 1.In his speech, he said the nation's forces will be out of Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, declaring that...
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Wednesday, 14 April 2021 02:44 PM
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