President Joe Biden will withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan over the coming months with a deadline of Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks that sparked the now two-decades-old war, a senior administration official told reporters Tuesday.
The announcement, which Biden is expected to formally make on Wednesday, means the U.S. will not meet the May 1 withdrawal deadline that was negotiated between the Trump administration and the Taliban militant group.
The official, who spoke on background, said the withdrawal of the roughly 2,500 American troops will begin this month and could be completed well before the new September 11 deadline.
Coalition forces in the region, namely NATO troops, will withdraw at the same time, per the administration’s “in together, out together,” policy.
“We’ve long known that military force would not solve Afghanistan’s internal political challenges, or its internal conflict, so we’re ending military operations while we focus our efforts on diplomatically supporting the peace process there,” the official said.
The official said that Biden has judged that a “conditions-based” withdrawal — an approach used by past administrations that meant U.S. forces would not leave until certain terms were met, including reductions in violence and assurances of counter-terrorism efforts by the Taliban — was a “recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever.”
Instead, the U.S. will remain closely involved in supporting the peace process between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
“But what we will not do is use our troops as bargaining chips in that process,” the official said.
Though troops will exit the country, an American diplomatic presence will remain, the official said. A handful of military forces will be tasked with protecting the diplomatic corps in Afghanistan.
Some lawmakers were quick to react negatively to the news.
“To say I’m concerned is a vast understatement — this is a reckless and dangerous decision,” Senate Armed Services ranking member James M. Inhofe said.
“No one wants a forever war, but I’ve consistently said any withdrawal must be conditions-based. Arbitrary deadlines would likely put our troops in danger, jeopardize all the progress we’ve made, and lead to civil war in Afghanistan — and create a breeding ground for international terrorists. We’re talking about protecting American lives here,” the Oklahoma Republican said.
Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, agreed.
“I am shocked and extremely concerned by reports of President Biden’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by September. This will mean we are not leaving a residual force to address the counterterrorism threats emanating from Afghanistan, abandoning our Afghan partners during critical peace negotiations, and allowing the Taliban a total victory despite their failure to fulfill their commitments under our agreement,” McCaul said.
“This premature withdrawal shows a complete disregard for the realities on the ground, and will not only put Afghans at risk, but endanger the lives of U.S. citizens at home and abroad,” he added.
Other Republicans echoed the sentiment.
“Not only will a withdrawal put our national security at risk, but the democratically-elected Afghan government will be left to fend against bloodthirsty and battle-tested Taliban forces,” Florida Rep. Michael Waltz, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a press release.
But Democrats in Congress were more receptive to the news.
Illinois Sen. Richard J. Durbin appeared to signal his support for the withdrawal, telling reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday that “It’s time for the longest war in the history of the United States to end.”
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said he had not been briefed on the news but understood not keeping troops in the country if they are not there to “change the tide and make a difference.”
“I understand all of that thinking, I am just concerned that after so much blood and national treasure that we don’t lose what we were seeking to achieve,” Menendez said.
Biden’s decision comes after a review of options in the region, where decades of war have failed to prop up a stable, democratic Afghan government or break the Taliban’s hold on power in the country of nearly 40 million people.
The war has cost the U.S. trillions of dollars, claimed the lives of some 2,300 U.S. servicemembers and tens of thousands of Afghan civilians.