- Biden officially announced plans to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan after two decades of war.
- “It is time to end America’s longest war,” he said on Wednesday.
- All American troops could be out of Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday officially announced his plans to end America’s longest war and bring US troops home from Afghanistan.
“I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan,” Biden said, stressing that he “will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.”
The president said that “we went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago,” adding that this tragedy “cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021.”
“We were attacked. We went to war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives. Bin Laden is dead, and al Qaeda is degraded in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “It is time to end the forever war.”
The Biden administration plans to have all US forces out of the country by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attack that led the US to war in 2001, a senior official said on Tuesday. The full withdrawal is expected to begin on May 1.
Official estimates put the number of US troops in Afghanistan at 2,500, though the number may be slightly higher, and there are another 7,000 NATO troops in the country. NATO is expected to withdraw its forces in coordination with the US.
As of the end of last year, American military operations in Afghanistan had cost $824.9 billion, the Pentagon estimated. The overall cost of the war has been substantially higher. More than 2,400 US troops have been killed in Afghanistan, and over 20,000 have been wounded in action.
“Regardless of how the war ends, their sacrifice has not been diminished one bit,” retired US Navy Adm. William McRaven, the former Navy SEAL who led the Osama bin Laden raid in 2011, said on Wednesday in a discussion with The Washington Post.
Concerns have been raised that with the end of US military support, the Taliban may seize the opportunity to undo the efforts of the past two decades. The US intelligence community argued in a new report released on Tuesday that “the Afghan Government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support.”
Biden stated on Wednesday that “while we will not stay involved in Afghanistan militarily, our diplomatic and humanitarian work will continue.” He added that “we will continue to support the government of Afghanistan” and “keep providing assistance to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.”
“They continue to fight valiantly on behalf of their country and defend the Afghans at great cost,” Biden said. Tens of thousands of Afghan troops have been killed in conflict with the Taliban.
One driving factor behind the decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan is shifting priorities, especially as the US shifts its focus to growing threats from Russia and China.
“Afghanistan just does not rise to the level of those other threats at this point,” a person familiar with the administration’s withdrawal plans told The Washington Post on Tuesday, adding that the US would “remain committed diplomatically” in Afghanistan.
Biden has determined “that the best path forward to advance American interests is to end the war in Afghanistan after 20 years so that we can address the global threat picture as it exists today, not as it was two decades ago,” the official said.
Biden explained on Wednesday that “we have to focus on the challenges that are in front of us.”
One important question hanging over the withdrawal decision is how the Taliban will react, especially considering that a September withdrawal date is past the May 1 date agreed to by the Trump administration.
The Taliban said on Wednesday that it wants all foreign military personnel out of Afghanistan “on the date specified” in the agreement. It added, “If the agreement is breached and foreign forces fail to exit our country on the specified date, problems will certainly be compounded.” The insurgent force said that those who “failed to comply with the agreement will be held liable.”
A senior official said on Tuesday that the US has “told the Taliban in no uncertain terms that any attacks on US troops as we undergo a safe and orderly withdrawal will be met with a forceful response.”
Biden said he made the decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan in consultation with members of Congress, his vice president, US military leaders, intelligence officials, diplomatic professionals, and experts, as well as US allies and partners.
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said on Wednesday, “The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan respects the US decision and we will work with our US partners to ensure a smooth transition,” adding that “Afghanistan’s proud security and defense forces are fully capable of defending its people and country.”
He said that he has spoken with Biden and that his government will continue to work with the US and NATO as the country pursues a peaceful resolution to conflict.
The Biden administration’s decision has had mixed reviews in Congress, ranging from support to concerns about the unconditional nature of the withdrawal.
“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 said on Wednesday. “It is time to end America’s longest war. It is time for American troops to come home.”