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America's Longest War Is Ending: Biden Says Troops Will Withdraw from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 — 'It Is Time'

Sean Neumann
·5 min read

Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images Joe Biden

President Joe Biden announced Wednesday afternoon that all U.S. military troops will withdraw from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, exactly 20 years after the terror attacks that led to the country's longest war.

"It is time for American troops to come home," Biden, 78, said during a speech from the White House.

"We 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," he said.

America's military presence in the Middle East has been key part of foreign policy under every president since George W. Bush, who first invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 in the wake of 9/11.

Bush went on to invade Iraq in early 2003, a conflict that ended in 2011, but operations in Afghanistan continued under former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

More than 2,000 U.S. troops and more than 100,000 civilians have died or been injured in Afghanistan since then.

The goals changed, as did the conditions in Afghanistan, but the war went on until ending the war itself became the goal.

After Bush left office, his predecessors both pledged to remove troops from Afghanistan — and both ultimately did not, in part because of uncertainty of what would happen when the U.S. withdrew, leaving the democratic government to contend with regional forces and the Taliban.

Biden came into office in the wake of the Trump administration's decision that U.S. forces would withdraw by May, while the Afghanistan government and Taliban entered fitful peace talks.

Biden confirmed on Wednesday he was moving forward with a withdrawal but said he was delaying it by four months, a move that risks backlash from the Taliban while allowing the U.S. more time for an orderly removal.

There are still 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the Associated Press reports.

"I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan: two Republicans, two Democrats," he said. "I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth."

Biden said he spoke with Bush, 74, on Tuesday to let him know his decision.

Soon after Biden's announcement, Obama, 59, offered his support in a statement.

"After nearly two decades in Afghanistan, it's time to recognize that we have accomplished all that we can militarily, and bring our remaining troops home," Obama said.

But Biden's announcement was also met with criticism, including from Republicans, who said removing troops from Afghanistan would forfeit the country back to the Taliban forces who first fostered the 9/11 attackers two decades ago.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, whose longtime personal friendship with Biden soured during the Trump administration, called the plan "dumber than dirt and devilishly dangerous," according to the AP.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat who had backed the earlier military operations, tweeted her own disappointment. "Although this decision was made in coordination w/our allies, the U.S. has sacrificed too much to bring stability to Afghanistan to leave w/o verifiable assurances of a secure future," she wrote.

ANDREW HARNIK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images Joe Biden

ANDREW HARNIK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images Joe Biden

Biden said he plans to start the troop withdrawal on May 1 and will conclude a complete exit by Sept. 11.

Shortly after his address, Biden traveled across the Potomac River to Arlington National Cemetery to visit the graves of fallen soldiers in Section 60, where the dead from Afghanistan and Iraq are buried.

Biden's son Beau Biden, an Army National Guardsman who died of brain cancer in 2015, served a year in Iraq from 2008 until 2009 and had received a Bronze Star Medal.

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The Department of Defense's latest data shows 2,312 U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan since October 2001, while military conflicts over the past two decades have left more than 20,600 U.S. soldiers wounded.

The AP reports the war has cost the U.S. about $1 trillion.

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images Joe Biden

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The latest annual U.S. threat assessment report released last week featured an intelligence warning that "the Afghan Government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support."

However, Biden pledged Wednesday that the U.S. and its allies were training nearly 300,000 "personnel" who will remain in Afghanistan to "continue to fight valiantly on behalf of their country and defend the Afghan people, at great cost."

"While we will not stay involved in Afghanistan militarily, our diplomatic and humanitarian work will continue," Biden said. "We will continue to support the government of Afghanistan."

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images Joe Biden

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The president said the U.S. will keep providing assistance to Afghan security forces and will support a successful peace process between the government and the Taliban, which is being facilitated by the United Nations.

Biden said the U.S. went to Afghanistan because of what he described as the "horrific" attacks in 2001.

But, he said, "That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021. Rather than return to war with the Taliban, we have to focus on the challenges that will determine our standing and reach today and into the years to come."