President Joe Biden said he was pulling the remaining 2,500 U.S. forces out of Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks because the U.S. has ‘accomplished’ the mission.
‘I said, along with others, we’d follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of Hell if need be. That’s exactly what we did. And we got him … That was 10 year ago. Think about that,’ Biden said from the White House Wednesday. ‘Since then, our reasons for remaining in Afghanistan have become increasingly unclear.’
Biden noted how he ‘inherited’ an agreement from former President Donald Trump and the Taliban to pull U.S. troops out of the country by May 1.
‘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,’ Biden acknowledged, adding that May 1 would not be the end, but the beginning of the drawdown.
‘U.S. troops as well as forces deployed by our NATO allies and operational partners will be out of Afghanistan before we mark the 20th anniversary of that heinous attack on September 11,’ he said.
In his 15 minute speech, he made it clear to the Taliban that the U.S. would retaliate if they attacked.
‘The Taliban should know if they attack us as we draw down, we will defend ourselves and our partners with all the tools at our disposal,’ Biden said.
President Joe Biden detailed his plans to fully withdraw U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by this year’s 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks
President Joe Biden speaks to reporters as he tours Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 60, where war dead from Afghanistan and Iraq have been laid to rest
President Joe Biden walked through Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery Wednesday after announcing his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan
‘I said, along with others, we’d follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of Hell if need be. That’s exactly what we did. And we got him. That was 10 year ago,’ Biden said during his remarks on withdrawing forces from Afghanistan on Wednesday
President Joe Biden arrives to speak from the Treaty Room at the White House Wednesday, where President George W. Bush announced the nation’s involvement in Afghanistan just weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks
President George W. Bush announcing that the U.S. and Britain had started bombing Afghanistan, in the Treaty Room of the White House on October 7, 2001
Were 20 years of blood and treasure wasted? How conflict cost $825billlion and 3,500 dead troops
Critics lined up to slam the ‘pointless’ war in Afghanistan as US, UK and NATO allies prepare to pull out troops and hand the country to the Taliban after a 20-year conflict which cost $825 billion and the lives of 3,500 soldiers.
The conflict has seen tens of thousands of deaths in all, with remarkably few of the aims set out in the beginning actually achieved.
As NATO leaders meet for talks this week, with a possible withdrawal on the cards following President Trump’s pledge to have all US troops out by May, those across the globe who have opposed the war have once again made their views known.
American author and combat vet Daniel L. Davis wrote: ‘The United States has been fighting a pointless, unnecessary war in Afghanistan for nearly two decades.’
Laila Harré, leader of New Zealand’s Internet Party, tweeted that it was ’20 years since the Alliance stood against this predictably destructive deployment. 20 years wasted on war.’
Meanwhile, a survey in 2019 found 58 per cent of veterans and 59 per cent of the public felt the conflict was not worth fighting.
Afghanistan’s government is held together by a fragile power-sharing deal, it is one of the least democratic and most-violent places on earth, and half of its territory is either in Taliban hands or being contested by the Islamists.
It is unlikely that NATO forces will stay much longer. Their withdrawal would bring an end to one of the longest conflicts of modern times.
But it will also be the beginning of the end of democracy in the country – the long-running campaign’s main objective – as the Taliban reclaim total control.
The US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 on a counter-terrorism mission – seeking to capture or kill the Al Qaeda leaders who orchestrated the 9/11 terror attack, and to displace the Taliban government which sheltered the group.
NATO was not far behind, arriving in the country two months later with a mission to secure Kabul province so the new government could be established there.
But the objectives quickly changed – a new goal to rebuild Afghanistan as a stable and democratic country within the Middle East emerged, and the war dragged on.
Military operations expanded to fit. In 2003, NATO’s mission extended across the entire country and troops became more involved in day-to-day fighting alongside regular US forces.
At its height, in 2011, the NATO force numbered roughly 130,000 men drawn from 50 countries, before declining rapidly from 2013 as US forces pulled back.
In 2014, primary responsibility for security was handed over to the Afghan government and today, there are around 10,000 troops from 36 countries stationed there in support and training roles.
Over that time, some 3,500 coalition troops have died fighting – the vast majority, around 2,400, were American.
The UK lost some 450 soldiers – the second-highest total – who were largely killed in Helmand and Kandahar provinces when they took over combat operations from the Americans.
On the Afghan side, it is thought that more than 110,000 have been killed including at least 31,000 civilians who were largely hit by airstrikes.
At least 30,000 coalition troops have also been wounded in the fighting – the vast majority American – while tens of thousands of Afghans have also been wounded.
NATO costs are hard to estimate because its troops are drawn from dozens of countries which control spending individually through many separate budgets.
However, the respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute previously estimated that combined US and NATO combat costs in Afghanistan from 2001 and 2012 totalled around $725billion.
The Taliban has already warned of attacks if U.S. forces aren’t fully out of the country by May 1.
‘If the [Doha] agreement is breached and foreign forces fail to exit our country on the specified date, problems will certainly be compounded and those whom failed to comply with the agreement will be held liable,’ Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid tweeted Wednesday.
Biden said he wouldn’t rush a departure.
‘We will not conduct a hasty rush to the exit. We’ll do it responsibly, deliberately and safely,’ he pledged. ‘And we will do it in full coordination with our allies and partners who now have more force in Afghanistan than we do.’
Biden made the announcement from the Treaty Room of the White House, where President George W. Bush announced the U.S. and Britain had started bombing Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001.
He said during the speech that he had called Bush to inform him of his decision.
‘While he and I have had many disagreements over policy throughout the years, we’re absolutely united in our respect and support for the valor, courage and integrity of women and men in the United States Armed Forces who served,’ Biden said.
‘We’re immensely grateful for the bravery and backbone they have shown through nearly two decades of combat deployments,’ he continued. ‘We as a nation are forever indebted to them and their families.’
Later, White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that Biden had also spoken to former President Barack Obama.
‘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,’ Biden said.
Biden said he also consulted with allies, military leaders, lawmakers and Vice President Kamala Harris to help make his decision to withdraw all U.S. troops.
‘I concluded that it was time to end America’s longest war,’ Biden said. ‘It’s time for American troops to come home.’
He recalled traveling to Afghanistan in 2008 as the incoming vice president.
‘What I saw on that trip reinforced my conviction that only the Afghans have the right and responsibility to lead their country and that more and endless American military force could not create or sustain a durable Afghan government,’ Biden said.
‘I believed that our presence in Afghanistan should be focused on the reason we went in the first place: To ensure Afghanistan would not be used as a base from which to attack our homeland again,’ the president continued.
‘We did that, we accomplished that objective,’ Biden stated.
Since then, Biden argued, the war on terror has moved all over the place.
‘With the terror threat now in many places keeping thousands of troops grounded and concentrated in just one country, at the cost of billions each year, makes little sense to me and our leaders,’ he said.
He added, ‘the main argument for staying longer is what each of my three predecessor have grappled with – no one wants to say that we should be in Afghanistan forever.’
‘But they insist, now is not the right moment to leave,’ Biden said.
He left Trump, who announced a prompt departure from the country after losing the election to Biden, out of the calculation.
The decision on a deadline to remove the final 2,500 U.S. forces would finally put an end to the war – amid questions about how much stability and security the U.S. would leave behind amid a fragile government that the military has helped prop up in Kabul.
Republicans slammed Biden’s plan as essentially surrendering the region to al Qaeda amid the ongoing war on terror.
But Biden argued that ‘diplomatic and humanitarian work will continue’ in Afghanistan after the military presence has gone.
He emphasized that his administration will continue to support peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban and assist international efforts to train the Afghan military.
And he noted that the U.S. and its partners are training and equipping nearly 300,000 personnel who are fighting in country.
‘We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago,’ Biden will say. ‘That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021. Rather than return to war with the Taliban, we have to focus on the challenges that will determine our standing and reach today and into the years to come.’
After his remarks, the president visited Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery to honor the sacrifice of those who died in recent American conflicts.
‘Hard to believe, isn’t it?’ he said, looking at the lines of graves.
Section 60 of the Virginia cemetery includes the country’s most recent war dead, from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
‘I’m always amazed at generation after generation, the women, the men, who are prepared to give their lives for their country,’ Biden told reporters after being asked what this moment meant to him.
As he did in his remarks, Biden brought up his son, Beau, who died of cancer in 2015 after serving in Iraq.
‘It means I have trouble these days ever showing at a veterans’ cemetery not thinking of my son Beau, who proudly insisted on putting on that uniform and going to hit unit to Iraq and giving up his spot as attorney general in the state of Delaware, because he thought it was the right thing to do,’ Biden said.
He answered in the negative when asked if withdrawing was a hard decision.
‘No it wasn’t to me,’ the president said. ‘It was absolutely clear. Absolutely clear.’
‘We went for two reasons – get rid of bin Laden and to end the safe haven. From the very beginning I never thought we were there to unify Iraq, I mean Afghanistan,’ Biden said, making a quick fumble. ‘It’s never been done. It’s never been done.’
‘Thank you all for being out here in the rain,’ he told the group of reporters, as he walked through the cemetery with an umbrella in his hand, but not opening it.
Prior to his announcement, Biden spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ahead of his remarks.
‘The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan respects the U.S. decision and we will work with our U.S. partners to ensure a smooth transition,’ Ghani wrote on Twitter.
‘Afghanistan’s proud security and defense forces are fully capable of defending its people and country, which they have been doing all along, and for which the Afghan nation will forever remain grateful,’ he added.
The White House is facing criticism from several corners about the decision to withdraw all of the American military presence – even from within its own ranks.
CIA Director William Burns said on Wednesday that Washington’s ability to collect intelligence and act on threats will diminish when U.S. troops leave Afghanistan.
‘When the time comes for the U.S. military to withdraw, the U.S. government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish. That’s simply a fact,’ he told the Senate Intelligence Committee, adding that the United States would however retain ‘a suite of capabilities.’
But White House press secretary Jen Psaki countered that ‘many of our intelligence officials have said publicly and in these hearings that the threats have evolved, that we need to approach how we look at counterterrorism through the prism of what the threats are in 2021. And even if you look at Al Qaeda, it is not being harbored in a safe haven in Afghanistan how it was 20 years ago.’
Psaki said Biden made the decision after asking for a review from his advisers where they didn’t sugar coat anything.
She also said the president would not change his mind should the situation on the ground change in Afghanistan.
‘We can’t look at things through the 2001 mindset we have to look at things through the 2021 world,’ she said at her daily press briefing.
‘We are not going to take our eyes off the terrorist threat or any sign of al Qaeda has resurgence, and we will reposition our counterterrorism capabilities in that regard,’ she said.
President Joe Biden got emotional and paid tribute to his late son Beau when he visited the graves of US troops killed in Afghanistan in Arlington Cemetery
Biden looks at a grave marker as he walks through Section 60 during a visit to pay his respects in Arlington National Cemetery
‘Hard to believe, isn’t it? Biden said as he held a reef in his hands near the burial sites of more than 800 American soldiers and said it was ‘absolutely clear’ that he needed to bring 2,500 troops home
Biden looks at the tombstone of Second World War and Vietnam Air Force veteran John Howard Stetson during his trip
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin briefed the decision to NATO allies in Brussels on Wednesday.
‘We will discuss our future presence in Afghanistan. We welcome this opportunity to closely coordinate and consult with all allies as we agree on our future presence in Afghanistan,’ Blinken said ahead of his meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
‘Almost 20 years ago, after the United States was attacked on 9/11, together we went into Afghanistan to deal with those who attacked us and to make sure that Afghanistan would not again become a haven for terrorists who might attack any of us. And together we have achieved the goals that we set out to achieve, and now it is time to bring our forces home,’ he added.
Blinken said the United States would coordinate closely with European allies on the U.S. troop withdrawal.
‘We will work very closely together in the weeks and months ahead on a safe, deliberate, and coordinated withdrawal of our forces from Afghanistan, but even as we do that, our commitment to Afghanistan, to its future, will remain and we’ll talk about that today as well,’ he said.
Biden’s decision would miss a May 1 deadline for withdrawal agreed with Taliban insurgents by his predecessor Donald Trump’s administration.
A senior administration official on Tuesday called the September date an absolute deadline that won’t be affected by security conditions in the country.
The U.S. and allied effort to force the Taliban from power began in October of 2001, weeks after the Sept. 11th attacks under the George W. Bush administration, after the regime had provided sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda fighters.
While Biden’s decision keeps U.S. troops in Afghanistan four months longer than initially planned, it sets a firm end to two decades of war that killed more than 2,200 U.S. troops, wounded 20,000, and cost as much as $1 trillion.
The conflict largely crippled al Qaeda and led to the death of Osama bin Laden, the architect of the Sept. 11 attacks.
But an American withdrawal also risks many of the gains made in democracy, women’s rights and governance, while ensuring that the Taliban, who provided al Qaeda’s haven, remain strong and in control of large swaths of the country.
Defense officials and commanders had argued against the May 1 deadline, saying the U.S. troop withdrawal should be based on security conditions in Afghanistan, including Taliban attacks and violence.
Republicans also hammered Biden on Tuesday after his decision was publicly reported.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blasted the move in a Senate floor statement – saying Biden plans to ‘turn tail’ and calling it a ‘retreat.’
US soldiers arrives at the site of a car bomb attack that targeted a NATO coalition convoy in Kabul on September 24, 2017 – US war in Afghanistan killed more than 2,200 U.S. troops, wounded 20,000
In this file photo a US soldier investigates the scene of a suicide attack at the Afghan-Pakistan border crossing in Torkham, Nangarhar province on June 19, 2014
‘Just moments ago, new reporting suggests the Biden Administration plans to turn tail and abandon the fight in Afghanistan,’ McConnell said.
‘Precipitously withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan is a grave mistake. It is retreat in the face of an enemy that has not yet been vanquished and abdication of American leadership,’ he added. He said leaders in both parties criticized a ‘reckless withdrawal’ from Syria and Afghanistan in the ‘prior Administration.’
‘Those same voices in both parties should be equally concerned about the Biden Administration’s announcement today,’ he said. ‘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.’ He also said it would ‘specifically abandon the women of Afghanistan, whose individual freedoms and human rights will be imperiled.’
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and GOP hawk, called the planned withdrawal a ‘disaster in the making.’
‘A full withdrawal from Afghanistan is dumber than dirt and devilishly dangerous. President Biden will have, in essence, cancelled an insurance policy against another 9/11,’ said Graham.
At a press conference Wednesday afternoon after Biden delivered his remarks, Graham blasted the decision again.
‘I miss John McCain a lot but probably no more than today because if John were with us I’d be speaking second, and he would be telling you a story about how unwise this decision is to withdraw all of our forces from Afghanistan,’ Graham said.
Some Democrats criticized the decision.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire called it disappointing.
‘I’m very disappointed in the president’s decision to set a September deadline to walk away from Afghanistan. Although this decision was made in coordination with our allies, the U.S. has sacrificed too much to bring stability to Afghanistan to leave without verifiable assurances of a secure future,’ she said in a statement.’
Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, a voice on military issues among Senate Democrats, declined to say directly he was on board with the decision.
‘Well, it will be a transition. Because we still have vital interests in protecting against terrorist attacks that could be emanating from that area. But there are other places in the world too where you have to be conscious,’ he said. We also have to maintain a presence for regional stability,’ he said.
Asked if he supports the move, he responded: ‘You know there is no easy answer.’
‘It’s a little concerning to me. It should be a conditions-based withdrawal, and not just because it’s the 20th anniversary of 9/11,’ said Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst.
U.S. and coalition forces were able to drive the Taliban from power and a new Afghan government was created. A long effort to train and equip native Afghan forces followed, amid an ongoing insurgency.
In a statement last month, the Taliban threatened to resume hostilities against foreign troops in Afghanistan if they did not meet the May 1 deadline.
But it would still set a near-term date with withdrawal, potentially allaying Taliban concerns that Biden would drag out the process.
The May 1 deadline had already started to appear less and less likely in recent weeks, given the lack of preparations on the ground to ensure it could be done in a safe and responsible way.
U.S. officials have also blamed the Taliban for failing to live up to commitments to reduce violence and some have warned about persistent Taliban links to al Qaeda.
It was those ties that triggered U.S. military intervention in 2001 following al Qaeda’s Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington because the Taliban had harbored al Qaeda leaders.
Thousands of American and allied troops have died in fighting in Afghanistan.
Biden said at his first press conference last month that: ‘It’s going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline’ for a full withdrawal.
‘Just in terms of tactical reasons, hard to get those troops out,’ Biden said, when asked about his plans.
He said the nation was coordinating with allies, and allowed: ‘If we leave, we’re going to do so in a safe and orderly way.’
Biden also said couldn’t picture U.S. troops still being in Afghanistan by March 2022. ‘I can’t picture that being the case,’ he said.
He added: ‘But we are not staying a long time. We will leave. The question is when we leave.’
Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed government is held together by a fragile power-sharing agreement.
About half of the nation’s territory remains under control of the Taliban or other islamists.
The war has resulted in 3,500 U.S. and coalition casualties, with a cost to the U.S. Treasury of more than $2 trillion, and a cost to NATO of an estimated $825 billion.
At the height of the conflict in 2011, the U.S. and NATO forces totaled 130,000.
The war is believed to have resulted in 110,000 Afghan forces, with an estimated 31,000 civilian casualties.
Excerpts from Biden’s speech on Afghanistan
President Biden will make remarks on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The White House released excerpts of his speech:
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.
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 to a fifth.
After consulting closely with our Allies and partners, with our military leaders and intelligence professionals, with our diplomats and development experts, and with Congress and the Vice President, I have concluded that:
It is time to end America’s longest war. It is time for American troops to come home.
While we will not stay involved in Afghanistan militarily, our diplomatic and humanitarian work will continue.
We will continue to support the Government of Afghanistan.
We will keep providing assistance to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. Along with our partners, we are training and equipping nearly 300,000 personnel. And they continue to fight valiantly on behalf of their country and defend the Afghan people, at great cost.
We will support peace talks between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, facilitated by the United Nations.
We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago.
That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021.
Rather than return to war with the Taliban, we have to focus on the challenges that will determine our standing and reach today and into the years to come.