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President Joe Biden says the United States will fully withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, marking his most significant and polarizing military decision since he was sworn into office.
POTUS explained his decision Wednesday from the White House Treaty Room, where former president George Bush announced the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, just weeks after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Biden acknowledged that the occupation was in response to the horrific events of 9/11, and ultimately led to the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden; however, he said that cannot “explain why we should remain there in 2021.”
“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,” Biden said. “I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth … It is time to end America’s longest war. It is time for American troops to come home.”
The president said the U.S. will start withdrawing the remaining troops on May 1, which was the deadline for a complete withdrawal set by the Trump administration last year. According to the Department of Defense, there are currently 2,500 U.S. service members in Afghanistan—the lowest number since the nearly 20-year conflict. The highest number was 98,000 troops in 2011.
“We have to focus on the challenges that are in front of us,” Biden said. “We already have service members doing their duty in Afghanistan today whose parents served in the same war. We have service members who were not yet born when our nation was attacked on 9/11. War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational undertaking.”
Although the U.S. will not be militarily involved in Afghanistan, Biden said the nation will continue to conduct diplomatic and humanitarian work to support the Afghani government. He specifically promised to provide further assistance to Afghanistan’s security forces who “continue to fight valiantly on behalf of their country and defend the Afghan people, at great cost.”
Biden has been opposed to a large-scale U.S. presence in Afghanistan, and reportedly urged Barack Obama to begin withdrawing troops as far back as 2009. White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed Wednesday that Biden had informed Obama of his decision prior to the announcement, and the former president believed it was “the right decision.”
“After nearly two decades of putting our troops in harm’s way, it is time to recognize that we have accomplished all that we can militarily, and that it’s time to bring our remaining troops home,” Psaki said in a statement as reported by NBC News.
Political leaders on both sides of the aisle remain torn on Biden’s announcement. Some lawmakers, like Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), argued a full troop withdrawal may result in a Taliban victory and do very little to protect the nation from another terrorist attack. Other Democrats, like Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, applauded Biden decision.
“As Speaker, I support this transition and President Biden’s leadership to protect the safety of our troops and the security of the American people, which must be our priority,” Pelosi wrote in a statement. “… As we mark twenty years since the tragedy of September 11, we look forward to welcoming our heroic troops back to American shores safely as soon as possible.”