Washington: Declaring that the war in Afghanistan was never meant to be a “multigenerational undertaking,” President Joe Biden has announced that all US troops would be withdrawn from the strife-torn country by September 11 to end America’s longest war that has cost trillions of dollars and the lives of over 2,400 American soldiers.
During a televised address to the nation on Wednesday, Biden said that keeping thousands of troops grounded and concentrated in just one country at a cost of billions each year made “little sense” to him and to other leaders and urged countries in the region, especially Pakistan, as well as Russia, China, India, and Turkey to “do more” to help ensure peace in Afghanistan.
“They all have a significant stake in the stable future for Afghanistan,” he said while speaking from the Treaty Room of the White House — where former President George W. Bush first informed the nation of US strikes on al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan in October 2001.
“It is time to end America’s longest war,” he said.
Biden said the US will begin final withdrawal from Afghanistan on May 1 of this year. There were 2,500 to 3,000 US troops in Afghanistan when Biden took office in January.
“We will not conduct a hasty rush to the exit. We’ll do it responsibly, deliberately, and safely. And we will do it in full coordination with our allies and partners, who now have more forces in Afghanistan than we do,” he said.
American troops, as well as forces deployed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies and operational partners, will be out of Afghanistan before “we mark the 20th anniversary of that heinous attack on September 11 (2001),” Biden said.
Soon after, Biden went to the Arlington National Cemetery to pay homage to the American soldiers who died in the Afghanistan war, which began in 2001 after Al Qaeda terrorists based in Afghanistan attacked the World Trade Centre in New York.
Responding to questions at the cemetery, Biden said the troop-pullout was not a tough decision.
“No, it wasn’t. To me, it was absolutely clear. Absolutely clear. We went for two reasons: to get rid of (Al Qaeda chief Osama) Bin Laden and to end the safe haven. From the very beginning, you may recall, I never thought we were there to somehow unify Afghanistan. It’s never been done,” Biden told reporters.
In his address to the nation, Biden said America went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. “That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021,” he said.
“War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multi-generational undertaking. We were attacked. We went to war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives. Bin Laden is dead, and al Qaeda is degraded in Iraq — in Afghanistan. And it’s time to end the forever war,” Biden said.
“Rather than return to war with the Taliban, we have to focus on the challenges that are in front of us. We have to track and disrupt terrorist networks and operations that spread far beyond Afghanistan since 9/11,” he said.
Biden reiterated that his administration would remain alert to the threat of terrorism.
“We’ll reorganize our counterterrorism capabilities and the substantial assets in the region to prevent re-emergence of terrorists, of the threat to our homeland from over the horizon.
“We’ll hold the Taliban accountable for its commitment not to allow any terrorists to threaten the United States or its allies from Afghan soil. The Afghan government has made that commitment to us as well. And we’ll focus our full attention on the threat we face today,” he said.
Biden said his team is refining national strategy to monitor and disrupt significant terrorist threats not only in Afghanistan, but anywhere they may arise — Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere.
“It’s time for American troops to come home,” Biden said.
“The Taliban should know that if they attack us as we drawdown, we will defend ourselves and our partners with all the tools at our disposal,” he said.
President Biden said the US will ask other countries in the region — to do more to support Afghanistan, especially Pakistan, as well as Russia, China, India, and Turkey. They all have a significant stake in the stable future for Afghanistan.”
Before making the announcement, Biden had spoken with former US presidents Barack Obama and George Bush.
“President Biden has made the right decision in completing the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan,” Obama said in a statement later.
Biden also received backing from Democratic lawmakers.
Biden’s announcement comes a day after the US intelligence community expressed doubt over a peace deal between the US forces and the Taliban
“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,” said the annual World Threat Assessment report by the Office of Director of National Intelligence.
The US and the Taliban signed a landmark deal in Doha on February 29, 2020, to bring lasting peace in war-torn Afghanistan and allow US troops to return home from America’s longest war.
Under the US-Taliban pact signed in Doha, Qatar, the US agreed to withdraw all its soldiers from Afghanistan in 14 months.
Since the US-led invasion that ousted the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks, America has spent more than USD 1 trillion in fighting and rebuilding in Afghanistan.
About 2,450 US soldiers have been killed and over 20,700 others have been injured in the war in Afghanistan.