Biden to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by September 11, officials say

Washington - US president's decision would miss a May 1 deadline for withdrawal agreed with Taleban.

By Reuters

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Published: Tue 13 Apr 2021, 8:57 PM

Last updated: Tue 13 Apr 2021, 11:31 PM

President Joe Biden has decided to leave American troops in Afghanistan beyond the May 1 deadline negotiated with the Taleban by the Trump administration, and has set the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks as the new goal, US officials said Tuesday.

Biden has been hinting for weeks that he was going to let the deadline lapse, and as the days went by it became clear that an orderly withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 troops would be difficult and was unlikely. US officials provided details on Biden’s decision on condition of anonymity, speaking ahead of the announcement. It was first reported by The Washington Post.

In a February 2020 agreement with the administration of President Donald Trump, the Taleban agreed to halt attacks and hold peace talks with the Afghan government, in exchange for a U.S. 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 Taleban have increased attacks on the Afghans. Commanders have argued that the Taleban have 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.

When 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 launched a review of the February 2020 agreement shortly after taking office, and has been consulting at length with his defense 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,” Biden said in late March. “Just in terms of tactical reasons, it’s hard to get those troops out.” Tellingly, he added, “And if we leave, we’re going to do so in a safe and orderly way.”President Joe Biden has decided to withdraw the remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, 20 years to the day after al Qaeda's attacks triggered America's longest war, US officials said on Tuesday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are expected to brief the decision to NATO allies in Brussels on Wednesday. Biden may also publicly announce his decision, several sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"After a rigorous policy review, President Biden has decided to draw down the remaining troops in Afghanistan and finally end the US war there after 20 years," a senior administration official told reporters.

Biden's decision would miss a May 1 deadline for withdrawal agreed with Taleban insurgents by his predecessor Donald Trump's administration.

In a statement last month, the Taleban threatened to resume hostilities against foreign troops in Afghanistan if they did not meet the May 1 deadline.

But Biden would still be setting a near-term date for withdrawal, potentially allaying Taleban concerns that the United States could drag out the process.

The senior Biden administration official stressed that the pullout would not be subject to further conditions.

"The president has judged that a conditions-based approach, which has been the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe in staying in Afghanistan forever," the official said.

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 Taleban for failing to live up to commitments to reduce violence and some have warned about persistent Taleban links to al Qaeda.

It was those ties that triggered US military intervention in 2001 following al Qaeda's September 11 attacks, when al Qaeda hijackers slammed airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon outside Washington, killing almost 3,000 people.

Still, the Biden administration said al Qaeda does not pose a threat to the US homeland now.

There are only about 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan currently, down from a peak of more than 100,000 in 2011. About 2,400 U.S. service members have been killed in the course of the Afghan conflict and many thousands more wounded.

It remains unclear how Biden's move would impact upcoming talks in Istanbul from April 24 to May 4 meant to jump-start an Afghan peace process and sketch out a possible political settlement concerning the Central Asian nation. The planned 10-day summit will include the United Nations and Qatar.

US troops have long provided the United States with leverage in peace efforts.

But the senior Biden administration official said the United States would no longer stick to that strategy.

"There is no military solution to the problems plaguing Afghanistan, and we will focus our efforts on supporting the ongoing peace process," the official said.

The presence of American forces eased concerns in Afghanistan that the United States might turn its back on the government in Kabul.

"We will have to survive the impact of it and it should not be considered as Taleban's victory or takeover," said a senior Afghan government source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Till then, we hope there is a clarity," the source added.

Then-President George W. Bush sent American forces into Afghanistan to topple its Taleban leaders just weeks after the September 11 attacks. US forces tracked down and killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011 during the presidency of Bush's successor Barack Obama.

With a US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 ordered by Bush, the American military began a period lasting years of fighting two large wars simultaneously, stretching its capabilities. U.S. troops left Iraq in 2011 under Obama, though some were later deployed under President Donald Trump in response to the threat posed by Daesh militants.

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