United States President Joe Biden on Wednesday framed his planned withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan around the reason they were sent there in the first place: The September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.
“It is time to end America’s longest war,” Biden said during a speech in the White House Treaty Room.
“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021.”
“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,” he said.
The US 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”.
Biden set September 11 as the date when the remaining 2,500 or so US troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan, effectively ending what many have called America’s “forever war”, that cost more than 2,400 US lives and as much as $1 trillion.
More than 38,500 Afghan civilians have died and at least 72,300 injured since 2009 – the first year the United Nations began counting Afghan civilian casualties. While numbers of Afghan military deaths have been classified or shielded, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said at least 48,000 Afghan security personnel were killed between 2014 and 2020.
The US troop withdrawal process will begin on May 1, Biden said.
NATO troops will also be leaving Afghanistan beginning on May 1, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday. There are around 7,000 non-US NATO forces there that rely on American support and leadership.
“Our drawdown will be orderly, coordinated, and deliberate,” Stoltenberg said at a press briefing in Brussels, alongside US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
“I think all allies are aware that this is not an easy decision, and this is a decision that entails risks, and also a decision that really requires that we continue to stay focused on Afghanistan, partly to make sure that the withdrawal takes place in a safe and secure and orderly way, that we’re sending a very clear message to Taliban if – that if they start to attack us, we will retaliate and answer in a very forceful way.”
In the wake of the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, masterminded by Osama bin Laden, then-US President George W Bush launched the war in Afghanistan in October 2001 after it was learned the Taliban was harboring bin Laden and refused to turn him over. Here