US President Joe Biden will withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America that were coordinated from that country.
- Only an unspecified number of troops needed to guard diplomats will remain in Afghanistan
- In February 2020, the Trump administration struck a deal with the Taliban predicated on a complete withdrawal by May 2021
- Mr Biden said it was tactically difficult to meet the deadline and said the US would leave in a “safe and orderly way”
The decision defies a May 1 deadline for full withdrawal under a peace agreement the Trump administration reached with the Taliban last year.
Mr Biden has been hinting for weeks he would let the deadline lapse, as it became clear an orderly withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 troops would be difficult.
A senior administration official said troops would begin leaving on May 1, with all forces, bar an unspecified number needed to guard diplomats, to return home on or before the September deadline.
Mr Biden’s choice of the 9/11 date underscores the reason that American troops were sent to Afghanistan to prevent extremist groups like Al Qaeda from establishing a foothold again that could be used to launch attacks against the US.
The President decided the deadline for withdrawal of US forces should be absolute, rather than provisional on conditions inside Afghanistan as the deadline neared, the senior administration official said.
He said Mr Biden concluded any conditional withdrawal would be “a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever”.
The Taliban controls about 40 per cent of Afghanistan, according to Afghan defence officials.(AP: Rahmat Gal
“We’re committing today to going to zero,” the official said.
Delay may lead to increased attacks
In November, the US announced plans to cut the number of troops in Afghanistan from more than 4,500 to 2,500.(AP: Massoud Hossaini
Mr Biden’s decision risks retaliation by the Taliban on US and Afghan forces, possibly escalating the 20-year war.
It will also reignite political division over America’s involvement in what many have called “the endless war”.
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An intelligence community report issued on Tuesday about global challenges for the next year said prospects for a peace deal in Afghanistan were “low” and warned “the Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield”.
If the coalition withdraws support, the report says, the Afghan government will struggle to control the Taliban.
In a February 2020 agreement with the administration of former president Donald Trump, the Taliban agreed to halt attacks and hold peace talks with the Afghan government, in exchange for a US commitment to a complete withdrawal by May 2021.
Over the past year, US military commanders and defence officials have said that attacks on US troops have largely paused, but they say the Taliban have increased attacks on the Afghans.
Commanders have argued the Taliban has failed to meet the conditions of the peace agreement by continuing attacks on the Afghans and failing to totally cut ties with Al Qaeda and other extremist groups.
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When Mr Biden entered the White House in January, he was keenly aware of the looming deadline and had time to meet it if he had chosen to do so.
He began a review of the February 2020 agreement shortly after taking office, and has been consulting at length with his defence and military advisers as well as allies.
In recent weeks, it became increasingly clear that he was leaning toward defying the deadline.
“It’s going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline,” Mr Biden said in late March.
“Just in terms of tactical reasons, it’s hard to get those troops out.
“And if we leave, we’re going to do so in a safe and orderly way.”