President Joe Biden said Thursday the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan will end on Aug. 31, delivering an impassioned argument for exiting the nearly 20-year war without sacrificing more American lives even as he bluntly acknowledged there will be no “mission accomplished” moment to celebrate.
Biden pushed back against the notion the U.S. mission has failed but also noted that it remains unlikely the government would control all of Afghanistan after the U.S. leaves. He urged the Afghan government and Taliban, which he said remains as formidable as it did before the start of the war, to come to a peace agreement.
“We did not go to Afghanistan to nation build,” Biden said in a speech from the White House’s East Room. “Afghan leaders have to come together and drive toward a future.”
Joe Biden says US to pull its forces out of Afghanistan by 31 August
The administration in recent days has sought to frame ending the conflict as a decision that Biden made after concluding it’s an “unwinnable war” and one that “does not have a military solution.” On Thursday he amplified the justification of his decision even as the Taliban make rapid advances in significant swaths of the country.
“How many more, how many more thousands of American daughters and sons are you willing to risk?” Biden said to those calling for the U.S. to extend the military operation. He added, “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan, with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.”
The new withdrawal date comes after former President Donald Trump’s... negotiated a deal with the Taliban to end the U.S. military mission by May 1. Biden after taking office announced U.S. troops would be out by by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack, which al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden plotted from Afghanistan, where he had been given refuge by the Taliban.
With U.S. and NATO ally forces rapidly drawing down in the past week, there was growing speculation that U.S. combat operations have already effectively ended. But by setting Aug. 31 as the drawdown date, the administration nodded to the reality that the long war is in its final phase, while providing itself some cushion to deal with outstanding matters.
‘Overdue’: Joe Biden sets Aug. 31 for US exit from Afghanistan
The administration has yet to complete talks with Turkey on an arrangement for maintaining security at the Kabul airport and is still ironing out details for the potential evacuation of thousands of Afghans who assisted the U.S. military operation.
Biden said that prolonging U.S. military involvement, considering Trump had already agreed to withdraw U.S. troops, would have led to an escalation of attacks on American troops and NATO allies.
“The Taliban would have again begun to target our forces,” Biden said. “The status quo was not an option. Staying meant U.S. troops taking casualties. American men and women. Back in the middle of a civil war. And we would run the risk of having to send more troops back in Afghanistan to defend our remaining troops.”
The president added that there is no “mission accomplished” moment as the U.S. war comes to an end.
“The mission was accomplished in that we got Osama bin Laden and terrorism is not emanating from that part of the world,” he said. U.S. forces killed bin Laden in 2011.
U.S. forces this week vacated Bagram Airfield — the U.S. epicenter of the conflict to oust the Taliban and hunt down the al-Qaida perpetrators of the 2001 terrorist attacks that triggered ....
Remaining U.S. troops are now concentrated in Kabul, the capital. The Pentagon said the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, is expected to end his tour of duty this month as final arrangements are made for a reduced U.S. military mission.
Biden, answering questions from reporters after his remarks on Thursday, said that Kabul falling to the Taliban would not be an acceptable outcome. The president also pushed back against the notion that such a scenario was certain.
“Do I trust the Taliban? No,” Biden said. “But I trust the capacity of the Afghan military, who is better trained, better equipped and more competent in terms of conducting war.”
To be certain, the West hopes Taliban gains will be confined mostly to rural areas, with the Afghan government and its allies retaining control of the cities where much of Afghanistan’s population resides. And while the Taliban remain a major power in Afghanistan, the government’s supporters hope that Afghans will work out the Taliban role in the post-U.S. Afghanistan power structure more through political than military means, partly through the inducements of international legitimacy, aid and other support.
Asked by a reporter whether rampant corruption within the Afghan government contributed to the failure of achieving the sort of stability that his predecessors and American military commanders envisioned, Biden didn’t exactly dismiss the notion. “The mission hasn’t failed — yet.”
Biden continues to face pressure from congressional lawmakers to offer further detail on how he intends to go about assisting thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. military as translators, drivers and in other jobs. Many are fearful they will be targets of the Taliban once the U.S. withdrawal is complete.
The White House says the administration has identified U.S. facilities outside of the co..., as well as third countries, where evacuated Afghans would potentially stay while their visa app.... Biden added that 2,500 Afghans have been granted special immigrant visas since he took office in January.
“The Taliban is gaining more ground by the day, and there are targets on the backs of our people and our partners,” said Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Forei.... “But rather than taking the opportunity to reassure the American people there are sufficient plans in place to keep America... and our Afghan partners safe, President Biden only offered more empty promises and no detailed plan of action.”
John Kirby, chief Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday that the U.S. m... is considering several overseas bases around the world as possible temporary locations for those Afghans awaiting a visa. So far, he said, the numbers of those who have decided to leave Afghanistan are not so high that they can’t be handled with a range of installations.
“Our message to those women and men is clear,” Biden said. “There is a home for you in the United States if you so choose. We will stand with you, just as you stood with us.”
Biden noted that as a senator he was skeptical about how much the U.S. could accomplish in Afghanistan and had advocated for a mo.... He was somewhat opaque in answering whether the cost of the war was worth it, but argued that the U.S. objectives were completed long ago.
“We went for two reasons: one, to bring Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, as I said at the time,” Biden said. “The second reason was to eliminate al-Qaida’s capacity to deal with more attacks on the Unit.... We accomplished both of those objectives. Period.
Analysis-Biden lost faith in the U.S. mission in Afghanistan over a decade ago
President Joe Biden’s frustrations with Afghanistan boiled over more than a decade ago, and they never again eased.
On a trip to Kabul in January 2009, shortly before he was sworn in ..., Biden warned Afghanistan’s then-President Hamid Karzai at a dinner that he could lose Washington’s support unless he started governing for all Afghans, hinting at corruption allegations targeting Karzai’s brother.
Karzai shot back that the United States was indifferent to the deaths of Afghan civilians.
As the dispute went on, Biden threw down his napkin and the dinner ended abruptly, according to several people in attendance.
Biden had previously supported strong military and humanitarian eff... to rebuild Afghanistan after the United States toppled the Islamist militant Taliban government in retaliation for its aiding al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
But the clash with Karzai and the rest of a discomforting trip left... with a sense that Afghanistan’s war was ensnaring Washington and could be unwinnable.
He returned to Washington with a stern warning to President-elect Barack Obama: Now is not the time to put more troop....
“It wasn’t simply impatience,” said Jonah Blank, a longtime former Biden aide who was with him on the 2009 trip. “Year after year, his optimism started to drain away.”
Biden lost that policy dispute as Obama eventually ordered a surge ... and extended the war through his term in office, which ended in 2017.
But Biden is now in charge at the White House and he is overseeing a near-total troop withdrawal despite the objections of some military experts, Democratic and Republican lawmakers and humanitarian officials.
Biden’s Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, struck a deal with the Taliban under which all U.S. troops would leave by May of this year. Sources say Biden worried that reneging on that deal would court further attacks on U.S. troops and extend the war.
Biden acknowledged on Thursday that a new civil war could erupt in ..., but reiterated his commitment to pulling out U.S. troops. While the United States will maintain diplomatic and humanitarian s..., Biden said their future was up to them.
It was the Democratic president’s most public effort yet to reassure Americans... as the Taliban takes over swaths of a country at the precipice of chaos.
“I made the decision with clear eyes,” Biden said. “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different....”
About 2,400 U.S. service members have been killed in America’s long... - and many thousands more wounded.
A majority of Americans support Biden’s decision to move troops out..., according to an Ipsos poll from April, but only 28% of respondents agreed the United States accomplished its g..., while 43% said the U.S. withdrawal now helps al Qaeda.
Critics, including some U.S. government officials, warn the withdrawal is occurring without guarantees that the Taliban will participate in a peace process or democratic elections, or cut ties with al Qaeda.
The Pentagon says the withdrawal of U.S. forces is 90% complete, and the Taliban has launched an offensive taking areas where it had once been kept at bay. On Thursday, it captured a major border crossing with Iran.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who accompanied Biden on the 200..., said this week that al Qaeda could re-emerge in Afghanistan and lay the groundwork for another attack on the United States. “It is not in America’s national security interest for the Taliban to take over A....”
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, said she is “deeply concerned” by conditions in Afghanistan.
Heather Barr, an interim co-director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch who spent years in Afghanistan, also had a grim assessment: “It feels like a complete disaster, as if the country is collapsing.”
The decision to leave was not easy, but current and former aides said Biden’s concerns about getting bogged down in Afghanistan began in the final stages of the George W. Bush adminis... and crystalized over the years.
The 2009 trip persuaded him that the policy was failing.
“What he saw and heard on the trip,” Obama wrote in his 2020 memoir, “A Promised Land,” “convinced him t... and that Afghanistan was a “dangerous quagmire.”
Biden was sometimes the only senior White House official opposing troop surges to back the counterinsurgency strategy.
Yet the years that passed only sharpened Biden’s concerns and those of close aides, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The 2011 killing of bin Laden, in a U.S. raid that Biden was skeptical of in neighboring Pakistan, was a major accomplishment for Obama. But it also removed another reason for the United States to maintain a strong presence in the region.
“Biden argued throughout the process, and would continue to argue, that the war was politically unsustainable at home,” Robert Gates, a defense secretary under Obama who clashed with Biden, said in a 2014 memoir.
Biden’s administration hopes it can maintain some leverage over the Taliban in U.S.-backed peace talks with threats to withhold financial assistance that the poor, landlocked country needs.
Yet the swift exit risks giving the Taliban free rein. Blinken told Reuters during the 2020 presidential campaign that Trump’s mistake was agreeing to leave Afghanistan while extracting nothing in return from the Taliban.
“We better make sure that we say we’re drawing down but in exchange for actions from the Taliban that we’re seeking as opposed to pulling out for nothing in return.”
A bipartisan group of lawmakers and aid groups share the concern that Biden’s own approach now is insufficient.
“Every time I’ve asked the administration for their plan on any of these issues, I’m told: ‘It’s coming,’” said Republican Representative Mike Rogers, his party’s senior member on the House Armed Services Committee. “These poor decisions, I’m afraid, will require our return to Afghanistan in the near future.”