Updated: May 7
President Biden announced this week that all American military troops will be out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, a move that would end America’s longest war on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that started the conflict.
The Sept. 11 target is four months past the withdrawal date that the Trump administration and Taliban forces agreed to last year. Under that agreement, the Taliban agreed to end attacks on U.S. troops, and in February, the U.S. marked a full year without a combat death in the country.
But while pressure to end America’s longest conflict has been building for years, Biden’s decision renewed the debate on whether now is the time to leave. Biden and those who support withdrawal said the original mission in the country has already been achieved.
“With the terror threat now in many places, keeping thousands of troops grounded and concentrated in just one country at a cost of billions each year makes no sense to me, and our leaders,” Biden said. “I’m now the fourth United States president to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans, two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.”
“We went to Afghanistan to deliver justice to those who attacked us on September 11th,” a Biden administration official said. “We believe we achieved that objective some years ago.”
Politico reported that “Biden and his top national security deputies did what no previous president has done successfully – they overrode the brass.” That report said Biden’s team overruled Pentagon leaders who have pushed for years to stay in Afghanistan. “The Pentagon is not making these decisions,” one source said.
White House Spokeswoman Jen Psaki added that the U.S. has been arguing for a decade over when to leave, “and it has not changed the outcome, and has not made a military solution more appealing or more effective.” She said terrorist threats have evolved and that the U.S. needs to focus on areas outside Afghanistan.
AUSN signed a letter with other veteran service organizations this month calling on Biden to live up to the May 1 withdrawal deadline. “[W]e urge you to honor the sacrifices our troops and their families are willing to make on America’s behalf by not asking our women and men in uniform to remain entangled in a conflict with no clear military mission or path to victory,” that letter said.
But others warned the U.S. is leaving as Taliban forces continue to gain ground in their war against the Afghan government. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called Biden’s move a “grave mistake” without elaborating.
News of America’s plan to leave the county was followed by statements from the UK and Germany that they too would exit by September. Some overseas officials warned that withdrawal could lead to a civil war in Afghanistan, and a UK official said Taliban fighters must “engage meaningfully in a dialogue with the Afghan government” in order to avoid that outcome.
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