Biden pledges imminent end to US military campaign in Afghanistan

Troops will fully withdraw by 20th anniversary of attacks that brought about invasion

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday formally announced an end to the two-decade US military mission in Afghanistan.

Mr Biden was following through on his administration's announcement on Tuesday that he would pull all American troops out of the war-torn country by September 11.

“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,” Mr Biden said.

“I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan – two Republicans, two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.

"After consulting closely with our allies and partners, with our military leaders and intelligence professionals, with our diplomats and development experts, with Congress and the vice president, as well as with [President Ashraf Ghani] and many others around the world, I have concluded that it is time to end America’s longest war.

"It is time for American troops to come home.”

The US agreed to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, under the Trump administration as part of Qatar-brokered talks with the Taliban last year.

“It’s perhaps not what I would have negotiated myself, but it was an agreement made by the United States government and that means something," Mr Biden said.

He said the withdrawal would begin on May 1 and be complete before the September 11 deadline.

The Defence Department had accused the Taliban of failing to live up to its end of the Doha agreement as the violence in Afghanistan continued to intensify.

A UN report released on Wednesday found that civilian casualties in Afghanistan have increased by 29 per cent, with about 1,783 civilians killed or injured in the first three months of 2021.

Mr Biden said he spoke about his decision on Tuesday with former president George W Bush, who launched the war in 2001 after Al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

“The war in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multi-generational undertaking,” he said. “We were attacked. We went to war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives."

"[Osama] bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda is degraded in Afghanistan. And it’s time to end the 'forever war'.”

While the number of US troops in Afghanistan reached their peak of about 100,000 in 2001, when Mr Biden was vice president, the Pentagon maintains that 2,500 US troops remain in Afghanistan.

But a March report in The New York Times revealed that there were 1,000 more US troops in Afghanistan than the Pentagon publicly disclosed, bringing the total closer to 3,500.

Mr Biden said the US withdrawal would also spell the end for the mission of the 11,000 Nato forces stationed in Afghanistan – a number that includes the 3,500 US troops.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the two affirmed that American and Nato forces "will leave together", the State Department said on Wednesday.

“Secretary Blinken and Secretary General Stoltenberg discussed our collective future in Afghanistan, noting that, as we have consistently said, the Nato Alliance went into Afghanistan together, adjusted to changing circumstances together and will leave together,” the department said.

While Mr Biden's decision puts him on track to end the longest-running war in US history, it is contrary to the advice in the congressionally mandated Afghanistan study group report released in February.

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

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

But a senior administration official said on Tuesday that Mr Biden’s September 11 withdrawal deadline was not based on conditions.

“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 official said.

Mr Biden pledged that the US would continue to support the Afghan security forces and remain diplomatically involved in the country's peace talks.

“While we will not stay involved in Afghanistan militarily, our diplomatic and humanitarian work will continue,” he said. “We will continue to support the government of Afghanistan.

“We will support peace talks between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, facilitated by the United Nations.”

Turkey on Tuesday announced that it would host a round of Afghanistan peace talks in Istanbul from April 24 to May 4.

But Taliban spokesman Mohammed Naeem indicated that the group would not attend until “all foreign forces completely withdraw” from Afghanistan.

(FILES) In this file photo a US soldier (C) from 1st Platoon Bravo Troop of 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry plays with a soccer ball with Afghan children during a patrol in Dand district of Kandahar Province in Afghanistan on July 24, 2010.   US President Joe Biden will formally announce on April 14, 2021 the withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan before this year's 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, finally ending America's longest war despite mounting fears of a Taliban victory, officials said. The drawdown delays only by around five months an agreement with the Taliban by former president Donald Trump to pull troops, amid a growing consensus in Washington that little more can be achieved.
 / AFP / MANPREET ROMANA

And while the Biden administration will "begin the withdrawal on May 1, the Taliban indicated their displeasure with the September 11 deadline.

“If the agreement is breached and foreign forces fail to exit our country on the specified date, problems will certainly be compounded and those who fail to comply with the agreement will be held liable,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said on Twitter.

And in Washington, Mr Biden came under bipartisan criticism over the Afghanistan withdrawal, while key Democrats praised the move.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell quoted the national intelligence threat assessment, which states: "The Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield and the Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support."

“Apparently we’re to help our adversaries ring in the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by gift-wrapping the country and handing it back to them,” Mr McConnell told the Senate before Mr Biden’s speech.

And Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire and member of the Senate foreign relations committee, said she was “very disappointed in the president’s decision to set a September deadline to walk away from Afghanistan".

“It undermines our commitment to the Afghan people, particularly Afghan women,” Ms Shaheen said.

But Gregory Meeks of New York, the foreign affairs committee chairman in the House of Representatives, praised Mr Biden’s announcement.

“After more than two decades of war, the United States, Afghanistan and our partners and allies are ready for the fighting in Afghanistan to come to an end,” Mr Meeks said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also praised Mr Biden's decesion, stating that, “As we mark 20 years since the tragedy of September 11, we look forward to welcoming our heroic troops back to American shores safely as soon as possible.”

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