President Joe Biden will declare on Wednesday he plans to end the longest US war and that it is “time for American troops to come home” from Afghanistan, looking to close the book on 20 years of US military involvement there even as critics warn that peace is not assured.
“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago,” Biden will say, according to excerpts of his speech released by the White House. “That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021.”
Biden is set to announce in a speech at the White House that all 2,500 US troops remaining in Afghanistan will be withdrawn no later than Sept. 11. By pulling out without a clear victory, the United States opens itself to criticism that a withdrawal represents a de facto admission of failure.
“I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats,” Biden will say. “I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth.”
“It is time to end America’s longest war. It is time for American troops to come home,” he will say.
Sept. 11 is a highly symbolic date, coming 20 years to the day of al Qaeda’s attacks on the United States that prompted then-President George W. Bush to launch the conflict. The war has cost the lives of 2,400 American service members and consumed an estimated $2 trillion. US troop numbers in Afghanistan peaked at more than 100,000 in 2011.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with officials at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, saying foreign troops under NATO command in Afghanistan will leave the country in coordination with the US withdrawal by Sept. 11, after Germany said it would match American plans.
Blinken also spoke by phone with Pakistan’s army chief on Wednesday and discussed the peace process, according to a statement from the media wing of Pakistan’s military.
The Democratic president had faced a May 1 withdrawal deadline, set by his Republican predecessor Donald Trump, who tried but failed to pull the troops out before he left office. Biden’s decision will keep troops in Afghanistan past that deadline, but officials suggested troops could fully depart before Sept. 11.
There is a summit planned about Afghanistan starting on April 24 in Istanbul that is due to include the United Nations and Qatar.
The Taliban, ousted from power in 2001 by US-led forces, said it would not take part in any meetings that would make decisions about Afghanistan until all foreign forces had left the country
Some analysts said the departure plan appeared to surrender Afghanistan to an uncertain fate.
“There is no good way that the US can withdraw from Afghanistan. It cannot claim victory, and it cannot wait indefinitely for some cosmetic form of peace,” said Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington.
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