President Joe Biden has announced his decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11 -- 20 years to the day after the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on the United States that triggered the conflict.
"It is time to end America's longest war,” Biden said during a speech at the White House on April 14. "It is time for American troops to come home.”
Biden said the drawdown of the 2,500 remaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan will start on May 1.
"We’ll not conduct a hasty rush to the exit," he said. "We'll do it responsibly, deliberately, and safely, and we will do it in full coordination with our allies and partners."
"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," Biden said, declaring: "We accomplished that objective."
The president warned the Taliban that he would "hold them accountable for its commitment not to allow any terrorists to threaten the U.S. or its allies from Afghan soil."
He also urged regional powers, including Pakistan, India, China, Russia, and Turkey, to play supportive roles in Afghanistan.
Biden pledged continued support for the Afghan government, but not militarily.
"While we will not stay involved in Afghanistan militarily, our diplomatic and humanitarian work will continue," he said. "We will continue to support the government of Afghanistan."
Biden also promised to continue providing assistance to the 300,000-strong Afghan Army and police force.
The White House said in a separate statement that Biden spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on April 14 and the two expressed continued commitment to a strong bilateral partnership after the departure of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan.
"Biden emphasized that the United States will continue to support the Afghan people, including through continued development, humanitarian, and security assistance," it said.
Ghani wrote on Twitter that he had spoken on the telephone with Biden and he respected the U.S. decision.
Ghani said that "we will work with our U.S. partners to ensure a smooth transition" and "we will continue to work with our US/NATO partners in the ongoing peace efforts."
Ghani insisted after the phone call with Biden that his forces were "fully capable" of controlling the country.
In a statement released shortly after Biden's announcement, NATO said that allies agreed to start the withdrawal of its forces in Afghanistan by May 1.
"Allies have determined that we will start the withdrawal of Resolute Support Mission forces by May 1," NATO's 30 allies said.
"We plan to have the withdrawal of all U.S. and Resolute Support Mission forces completed within a few months."
Earlier on April 14, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with officials at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
“We will work very closely together in the weeks and months ahead on a safe, deliberate and coordinated withdrawal of our forces,” Blinken said in a televised statement at NATO headquarters in Brussels ahead of a video conference with the military alliance's foreign and defense ministers.
There are also some 7,000 non-U.S. troops from mainly NATO countries -- as well as Australia, New Zealand, and Georgia -- in Afghanistan, outnumbering the 2,500 American soldiers, but still relying on U.S. air support, planning, and leadership for their training mission.
"Together, we have achieved the goals that we set out to achieve and now it is time to bring our forces home," said Blinken, who was accompanied in the Belgian capital by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Blinken also spoke by phone with Pakistan's army chief on April 14 and discussed the peace process, according to a statement from the media wing of Pakistan's military.
Biden's announcement means a delay by about five months of a U.S. pledge to withdraw by May 1, a deadline agreed with the Taliban under former President Donald Trump.
The militant group on April 14 reiterated its call for the withdrawal of all foreign forces by the date stipulated in the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February 2020.
A senior U.S. official who briefed reporters on April 13 about Biden’s decision on the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan said the withdrawal would begin before May 1 and could be completed well before the September 11 deadline.
The withdrawal will not be subject to further conditions, including security or human rights, the official said.
"The president has judged that a conditions-based approach, which has been the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever," according to the official. The United States will instead focus its efforts on supporting the ongoing peace process, the official added.
But the White House said on April 14 that it was not in the Talban’s interest to allow Afghanistan to become a "pariah state" or allow Al-Qaeda to take hold, in reference to the Taliban’s brutal rule in the 1990s.
Meanwhile, Russia said Washington's plan to pull out troops from Afghanistan by September could lead to an escalation in the decades-old conflict.
"What is concerning in this context is that the armed conflict in Afghanistan might escalate in the near future, which in turn might undermine efforts to start direct intra-Afghan negotiations," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in an April 14 statement.
It remains unclear how the move would impact a planned summit scheduled to begin April 24 in Istanbul seeking to revive intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha, Qatar.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid warned: “If the agreement [with the United States] is breached and foreign forces fail to exit the country on the specified date, problems will certainly be compounded and those who failed to comply with the agreement will be held responsible.”
Another Taliban spokesman, Muhammad Naeem, said on April 13 the group would not take part in any summits that would make decisions about Afghanistan until all international troops “completely withdraw from our homeland.”
Meanwhile, CIA Director William Burns warned on April 14 that Washington's ability to collect and act on threats will diminish when the time comes for the U.S. military to withdraw from Afghanistan.
"There is a significant risk once the U.S. military and the coalition militaries withdraw," Burns told the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, although he said the United States would retain "a suite of capabilities."
The agreement between the Trump administration and the Taliban called for the Taliban 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.
Biden said last month that the withdrawal deadline would be difficult to meet due to logistical challenges, while the Taliban warned of “consequences” if it reneged on the May 1 deadline.
U.S. commanders have said that the Taliban has failed to meet the conditions of the peace agreement by continuing attacks on Afghan security forces and civilians and failing to totally cut ties with Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups.
Biden’s decision comes after a review of the February 2020 agreement and amid a growing consensus in Washington that little more can be achieved in the country.
The United States has tried before to withdraw from Afghanistan, but concerns about Afghan security forces, corruption, and the resiliency of the Taliban have hampered the plans.
A U.S. withdrawal by September 11 would coincide with the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people. After the attacks, the United States led an invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban regime for harboring Al-Qaeda, the terrorist group behind the 9/11 attacks.