Biden to exit Afghanistan by September 11

US will fully withdraw from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the attacks that precipitated the invasion of the country

US soldiers patrol a village in Afghanistan's Khost province.  AFP 
US soldiers patrol a village in Afghanistan's Khost province.  AFP 

The Biden administration on Tuesday announced the full withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan by September 11.

It will be the 20th anniversary of Al Qaeda attacks that precipitated the US invasion of the country and overthrow of the Taliban.

President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw the remaining 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan puts him on a trajectory to end the longest war in US history.

“This is not conditions-based,” a senior administration official said. “The president has judged that a conditions-based approach, which has been the case for the past two decades, is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever.”

The withdrawal will begin before the May 1 deadline agreed to last year as part of the Trump administration’s Qatar-brokered negotiations with the Taliban, but US forces may be out of the country before the September 11 deadline.

“A lot of this is about operational and logistical issues related to ensuring that we have a safe and orderly withdrawal,” the senior administration official said. “That withdrawal may be completed well in advance of September 11.”

“It will begin before May 1. It will be completed over the course of that next period and no later than the 20th anniversary of 9/11, but a potentially meaningful amount of time before that.”

Mr Biden’s decision contradicts the advice of the congressionally mandated Afghanistan study group, which released its final report in February.

The report advises against the May 1 withdrawal deadline until the Taliban meets the conditions outlined in last year’s Doha agreement and reduces violence against the Afghan people.

It also recommends that the Taliban and the Kabul-based government reach a comprehensive political settlement before US withdrawal.

The ongoing peace talks have done little to quash the ongoing violence in Afghanistan. And the US has accused the Taliban of repeatedly failing to live up to its agreement at the end of last year to cut ties with Al Qaeda and cease terrorist attacks.

On Tuesday, Turkey announced it would host an Afghanistan peace summit between the Taliban and the Kabul-based government later this month. Delegations from the UN and Qatar are also expected to attend the summit, which is scheduled to take place in Istanbul from April 24 to May 4.

But the Taliban subsequently appeared to imply that it may not participate in the talks despite the Turkish announcement.

Taliban spokesman Mohammed Naeem announced on Twitter that the Islamist group would “not participate in any conference that shall make decisions about Afghanistan” until “all foreign forces completely withdraw” from the country.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is expected to present a three-phase roadmap to peace at the summit, which will seek to establish a ceasefire with the Taliban before elections.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to address Afghanistan as part of his trip to Brussels this week.

Mr Blinken said last month that the US and its Nato allies would withdraw from Afghanistan “together”. This suggests that the 11,000 Nato troops currently stationed in the country could leave alongside US forces by September 11.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticised the withdrawal plans shortly after the Biden administration's announcement.

"Leaders in both parties, including me, offered criticism when the prior administration floated the concept of a reckless withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan," Mr McConnell said on the Senate floor.

"Those same voices in both parties should be equally concerned about the Biden administration's announcement today. A reckless pullback like this would abandon our Afghan, regional and Nato partners in a shared fight against terrorists that we have not yet won."

Updated: April 14, 2021 05:51 PM

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