WASHINGTON – President Biden declared Wednesday that “the time has come to end eternal war” Afghanistan, Saying that the United States had long ago accomplished its main mission of Deprivation of terrorists from safe haven in the country Leaving the American forces there is no longer worth the price in blood and money.
Speaking from the same place in the White House where President George W. Bush ordered the start of the war after the 9/11 attacks nearly two decades ago, Mr. Biden made the case that there was no longer any justification – if there was any. The belief that the military presence of the United States can transform Afghanistan into a stable democracy.
He said about 2,500 American troops are on the ground there, to be gradually withdrawn from May 1 The process was completed by September 11th, A timeline intended to signal his determination to end a disturbing and largely failed chapter in American foreign policy.
Military officials indicated that the exit could be faster, leaving only a token guard force for the US embassy. European officials said NATO forces, which today have a much larger presence than the United States, will also leave.
Biden emphasized that “the war in Afghanistan was never intended to be a multi-generational enterprise,” noting that service members who are now serving in Afghanistan have parents. He served in the same war.
“We have been attacked,” the President said in a bleak 16-minute speech filled with flashes of emotion. We went to war with clear goals. We have achieved those goals. “
Mr. Biden was a critic Of an American presence of more than twelve years, although his concerns were often overlooked when he was Vice President. Now, having invested with the authority to issue exit orders, he said the United States has succeeded in its only real mission: to topple Al Qaeda and to make sure that the country will never again be a staging ground for a terrorist attack on the United States, as it was on September 11, 2001.
“We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan, hoping to create ideal conditions for withdrawal, and expecting a different outcome,” said Biden.
He continued, “I am now the fourth president of the United States to preside over the presence of American forces in Afghanistan.” Two Republicans, Two Democrats. I will not transfer this responsibility to a fifth person. “
Mr. Biden’s tone underscored what a moment of humility for the United States. Many of the goals cited by the military and other supporters of the continued presence in Afghanistan – turning the country into a stable democratic ally, weakening the Taliban, and fighting corruption and drug trafficking – have either proven beyond the capabilities of the United States and its allies or have made partial or weak gains.
And the cost – in lives, treasures, and the nation’s focus – proved staggering. Biden said that as of Wednesday, more than 2,400 US soldiers had died in Afghanistan.
Moments after his speech, the president traveled to Arlington National Cemetery to visit the graves of service personnel who had lost their lives in Afghanistan. He said that the decision to withdraw US forces was not difficult because it was “absolutely clear” to him that the time had come to end the war.
Standing in the rain in the rows of white tombstones, Mr. Biden said, “He has always been astonished, generation after generation, of the women and men willing to sacrifice their lives for their country.” He said that his visit to the cemetery made him think of his son, Beau Biden, who died of cancer in 2015 after serving in Iraq.
In his speech, Mr. Biden – who said he was the first president in 40 years to have a child serving in a war zone – rejected the idea that endangering soldiers like his son was the only way to achieve the United States. Targets in places like Afghanistan, where efforts to stabilize and modernize the country by rebuilding its military, civil society and infrastructure have largely faltered.
We have made this argument for a decade. “It’s never proven to be effective,” the president said. US forces should not be used as a bargaining chip between warring parties in other countries. As you know, this is nothing more than a recipe to keep American forces in Afghanistan indefinitely. “
In announcing his decision, Mr. Biden referred in passing to other goals that have been added to the mission over the years that have come to justify the continued US military presence, including ensuring girls ’education, opportunities for women, and fostering a sustainable goal. Economy, and ultimately create a pressure force to force the Taliban to enter peace negotiations.
He indicated that all of them may have been noble goals, but keeping the US forces in the country until they are achieved was a formula for permanent presence after the killing of the al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden.
He said, “We brought justice to bin Laden a decade ago.” We have been in Afghanistan for a decade since then. Since then, the reasons for our stay in Afghanistan have become increasingly unclear. “
Speaking after a meeting with allies in Brussels, Foreign Minister Anthony J. Blinken said the withdrawal of NATO forces by 9/11 does not mean an end to the US commitment to Afghanistan, which will include assistance and advice for the military and the military. Government.
He said, “Bringing our forces home does not mean the end of our relationship with Afghanistan.”
If Biden fulfills his pledge to remove all US forces permanently stationed in the country by the 20th anniversary of 9/11, he will have achieved a goal embraced by his immediate predecessor, Presidents Barack Obama and Donald J. Trump. But it was not completed. However, a clean break will not be easy, and the stakes are high.
In a series of Biden briefings in recent weeks, Pentagon officials have argued for a continued modest presence in Afghanistan to gather intelligence and provide support for the still-shaky Afghan forces. They also warned that the Taliban might attack US forces and their NATO allies on their way out of the country.
So Mr. Biden issued a warning on Wednesday, saying that the United States “will defend ourselves and our partners with all the tools at our disposal.”
The president’s speech included an explicit reminder of his firm belief that victory in the war was impossible, and no matter how long Americans lived, the end result would be slightly different. In a sad tone, he did not declare victory or admit defeat. Instead, he retreated to the narrow original goal of protecting US interests, and said it had been accomplished.
“We went to Afghanistan because of a terrible attack 20 years ago,” Biden said, referring to the courage of the men and women who fought in the country after 9/11. But he added, “That doesn’t explain why we will stay there in 2021.”
On October 7, 2001, just weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Mr. Bush used the Treaty Room, where the Spanish-American War officially ended in 1898, to tell the Americans that the United States was invading Afghanistan.
At the time, Mr. Bush said that “the only way to achieve peace is to go after those who threaten it” and pledged that the United States “will not be shaken, will not tire, nor will we falter, and will not fail.”
Twenty years later, Mr. Biden, speaking from the same room, said the issue was “fair” but said that the clarity of the mission Mr. Bush committed had become muddled, and said he could no longer accept the argument that more time spent in Afghanistan would yield results. Best for the American people.
White House officials said Biden spoke with Obama about his decision, and the president said he informed Mr. Bush as well.
Mr. Bush chose not to publicly speculate on Mr. Biden’s decision.
“As has been assured since leaving office, President Bush will refuse to comment on private phone calls or his successors,” said Freddie Ford, the chief of staff.
A series of Afghan governments have failed to maintain control over large parts of the country, which is the core of the US military’s “clean, hold, and build” strategy for years after the initial invasion. While a series of Afghan leaders, backed by the United States and its allies, promised to fight corruption, end the scourge of drugs, and establish stable governance, all of these gains have proven fragile at best.
Women played a prominent role in government, and girls were educated on a scale not seen before the war began. But The future of those gains They are in doubt if the Taliban gain more ground.
at Statement on TwitterAfghan President Ashraf Ghani said that his country “respects the decision of the United States and we will work with our partners in the United States to ensure a smooth transition.” He added that the security forces in his country are “fully capable of defending their people.”
Secretly, Mr. Ghani expressed his anger at the US decision, according to people who spoke to him. He fears that this will embolden the Taliban, and give them little or no incentive to abide by the terms of the agreement they reached a year ago with Mr.Trump. Many around Mr. Ghani fear that his government, already diminished in influence, could fall if the Taliban decide to try to seize Kabul, the capital.
“Just because we withdrew from Afghanistan doesn’t mean the war is over,” said Lisa Curtis, Trump’s national security official who has dealt with Afghanistan. “It might get worse.”
Mr. Biden is the first president to reject the Pentagon’s recommendations that any withdrawal should be “on the basis of conditions,” which means that security on the ground must be ensured before the Americans withdraw. To do otherwise, military officials have long argued, that would mean sending a signal to the Taliban to only wait for the Americans – after which they would face little opposition to imposing more control, and possibly threatening Kabul.
Many Democrats welcomed the decision, but most Republicans harshly criticized it, expecting that the withdrawal of US forces would encourage terrorists and hasten the collapse of the Afghan government.
Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, described the decision as a “fatal mistake” and a “retreat in the face of an enemy.”
But even some of the architects of the original policy agreed it was time to go. Douglas Lott, a retired general who ran Afghan policy in the National Security Council for Mr. Bush and then for Mr. Obama, He wrote for CNN with Charles A. Copchan on Wednesday “Those who argue that we need to stay in Afghanistan to thwart attacks against the homeland are wrong” because the terrorist threat from within the country “has decreased dramatically in the past twenty years.”
In a statement issued by Brussels, NATO’s foreign and defense ministers echoed what Biden had said, announcing that the alliance would also begin withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan on May 1. There are currently 6,000 to 7,000 NATO soldiers in Afghanistan, not to mention the US forces. States.
The NATO statement said that despite the troop withdrawal, it “will continue to stand with Afghanistan, its people and its institutions in enhancing security and supporting the gains of the past twenty years.”
Peter Baker Contributed to reporting from Washington, and Stephen Erlanger From Brussels.