President Biden plans to formally announce that the United States will withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a senior administration official said.
The decision, which Biden is expected to announce on Wednesday, will keep the 2,500 U.S. forces in the country beyond the May 1 exit deadline, pushing back the Trump administration negotiated deal made last year with the Taliban.
Late last month, Biden signaled that it would miss the original deadline set by the Trump administration during historic negotiations with the Taliban insurgent group last year. The planned withdrawal has been on hold as the Biden administration examined terms of the 2020 agreement and considered whether to fully honor the deal.
“The answer is that it’s going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline; just in terms of tactical reasons, it’s hard to get those troops out,” Biden said in response to a question about the deadline during his first press conference last month. “If we leave, we’re going to do so in a safe and orderly way, and in cooperation with allies that also have forces in Afghanistan,” Biden said during his first news conference at the White House.
“It is not my intention to stay there for a long time. But the question is how and on what circumstances do we meet that agreement that was made by President Trump to leave under a deal that looks like it’s not being able to be worked out to begin with?” Biden added. “How’s that done? But we are not staying a long time.”
Biden appeared to criticize the terms of the peace agreement former President Trump brokered, who came closer to ending the nearly 20 year war than his previous predecessors. In remaining “adamant” that a hasty withdrawal was not viable, Biden asked for a policy review that would include “genuine realistic options” that would not “sugarcoat” that situation.
Instead of fully honoring the deal the Trump administration negotiated, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during his visit to Afghanistan last month opted to focus on reinvigorate faltering peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, scheduling a peace conference in Turkey later this month. However, the Taliban has yet to agree to attend the conference.
Senior military commanders have advocated in keeping U.S troops in Afghanistan, arguing that a premature withdrawal would lead to a collapse of the Afghan government. A US intelligence community assessment released earlier Tuesday warned that the Taliban was likely to make gains on the battlefield.
“The President has judged that a conditions-based approach, which is then the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever. And so he has reached the conclusion that the United States will complete its drawdown, will remove its forces from Afghanistan before September 11,” the senior official said, stating the deadline wouldn’t be condition-based.
The plan from the Biden administration, according to the senior administration official is to keep some U.S. troops in the country to provide diplomatic security, emphasizing the plan wouldn’t be a full withdrawal. The exact number of troops to remain had yet been decided.
Secretary of State Tony Blinken laid out the groundwork for Biden to make the Wednesday announcement regarding the withdrawal plan in a phone call with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Blinken did not disclose exact details regarding the withdrawal plans but explained he informed the Afghan president with the understanding that Biden had decided on withdrawing US troops over the course of the next few months.
“Today I spoke with Secretary @ABlinken. We discussed the ongoing peace process, the upcoming peace talks in Turkey, and also spoke about the upcoming phone call with President @JoeBiden,” Ghani tweeted.
The planned withdrawal of US forces sparked mix reactions from Republicans, with some criticizing the move while others backed up Biden’s decision.
Sen.Lindsey Graham (R-SC) slammed Biden’s plans to fully withdraw all troops from Afghanistan, calling the decision “dumber than dirt and devilishy dangerous,” noting the move from the president “cancelled an insurance policy against another 9/11.”
“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,” Graham said in a statement. “A residual counterterrorism force would be an insurance policy against the rise of radical Islam in Afghanistan that could pave the way for another attack against our homeland or our allies.”
“I find it ironic that, given the sacrifices we’ve made to move Afghanistan forward, prevent another 9/11, and ensure the enduring defeat of al Qaeda and ISIS, that on the 20 anniversary of the attack we’re paving the way for another attack,” Graham added.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), one of Biden’s staunchest GOP critics praised the move.
“I’m glad the troops are coming home,” Cruz said. “Bringing our troops home should not be taken as a sign that America will be any less vigilant in protecting American lives and those of our allies, but we can do so without a permanent military presence in a hostile terrain.”
One of America’s longest war in history that began in October 2001, it saw more than 2,300 U.S military members have died and more than 20,000 wounded in Afghanistan.