The US will continue to support Afghanistan after withdrawing all US troops, but not “militarily,” President Joe Biden, has confirmed.
“It is time to end America’s longest war,” he will say in a speech later on Wednesday, according to preview excerpts released by the White House. The pull-out is to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terror attacks, officials say. At least 2,500 US troops are part of the 9,600-strong Nato Afghan mission. The number of US troops on the ground in Afghanistan fluctuates, and US media report the current total is closer to 3,500. US and Nato officials have said the Taliban, a hardline Islamist movement, have so far failed to live up to commitments to reduce violence in Afghanistan In Kabul, Afghan officials say they will continue peace talks in preparation for the withdrawal. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani tweeted that he had spoken on the phone with Mr Biden on Wednesday, and that the country “respects the US decision and we will work with our US partners to ensure a smooth transition”. He added that Afghanistan’s defence forces “are fully capable of defending its people and country“.
What will Biden say?
Mr Biden is scheduled to deliver remarks on the withdrawal on Wednesday afternoon, local time. “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,” Mr Biden, the fourth president to oversee the war, will say in his speech.
“While we will not stay involved in Afghanistan militarily, our diplomatic and humanitarian work will continue,” he will say, adding: “We will continue to support the government of Afghanistan.” Mr Biden will also pledge to continue providing assistance to Afghan defence and security forces including 300,000 personnel, who he says “continue to fight valiantly on behalf of their country and defend the Afghan people, at great cost”. The excerpts do not mention 11 September as the pull-out date, but the president does pay his respects to the victims of the attack that triggered the US invasion of Afghanistan.
“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago,” he will say. “That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021.” Mr Biden’s plan pushes back the 1 May deadline agreed to by the Trump White House. The US and its Nato allies would withdraw all troops by May 2021 if the Taliban upheld its promises, including not allowing al-Qaeda or other militants to operate in areas it controlled and proceeding with national peace talks. Although the group stopped attacks on international forces as part of the historic agreement, it has continued to fight the Afghan government. Last month, the Taliban threatened to resume hostilities against foreign troops still in the country on 1 May.