WASHINGTON , APRIL 15 : President Joe Biden announced Wednesday it’s “time to end” America’s longest war with the unconditional withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan where they have spent two decades in a bloody, largely fruitless battle against the Taliban.
Dubbed the “forever war,” the US military onslaught in Afghanistan began in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States.
Now, 20 years later — after almost 2,400 US military and tens of thousands of Afghan deaths — Biden is naming September 11 as the deadline by which the last US soldiers will have finally departed.
The war is at best at a stalemate.
In a speech later Wednesday, Biden was to tell Americans that it’s time to accept the reality that there’s no alternative to a clean break.
“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,” he was to say, according to excerpts released ahead of his speech.
“I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats,” he said. “I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth.”
Biden’s decision is not a shock. The war is hugely unpopular among voters and Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump had committed to an even earlier exit of May 1.
Biden ally Senator Bernie Sanders called it “brave.”
– ‘Recipe’ for forever war –
Biden was set to say in his speech that Washington will continue to support the Afghan government.
A senior administration official said the US military exit would be completed by September 11.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the moment had arrived to bring forces back home, and Washington would work out a “coordinated” withdrawal plan with its NATO allies.
“Together, we have achieved the goals that we set out to achieve and now it is time to bring our forces home,” Blinken said ahead of talks with NATO partners in Brussels.
German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said Wednesday that NATO would likely join the US in withdrawing its troops by September.
The Times newspaper said Britain would withdraw its roughly 750 troops, citing sources as saying “they would struggle without American support because of a reliance on US bases and infrastructure.”
The Biden official said the withdrawal would begin in May and that the delay was largely logistical, with troops possibly out of Afghanistan well before September 11.
The official warned the Taliban — who are observing a truce with US but not with Afghan forces — not to strike coalition forces as they leave, saying that in response to any attack “we will hit back hard.”
A decade ago, the United States had about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan.
The troop figure by the end of Trump’s presidency had gone down to 2,500. As of February this year, NATO had around 10,000 troops in Afghanistan.