US President Joe Biden confirmed that the United States will continue its support for Afghanistan after the withdrawal of all American forces, but not “militarily.”
“The time has come to end America’s longest war,” Biden said in a speech from the room from which the war was declared in 2001 at the White House.
The withdrawal is scheduled to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, officials say.
At least 2,500 American soldiers are participating in the 9,600-strong NATO mission in Afghanistan.
US and other NATO officials said the Taliban had so far failed to fulfill their commitment to curb violence in Afghanistan.
In Kabul, Afghan officials say they will continue peace talks in preparation for the withdrawal.
What He said Biden?
Biden, the fourth president overseeing the war, said in his speech: “We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan in the hope of creating the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, and expecting a different outcome.”
He added: “While we will not remain militarily involved in Afghanistan, our diplomatic and humanitarian work will continue,” adding: “We will continue to support the government of Afghanistan.”
Biden also pledged to continue providing assistance to the Afghan Defense and Security Forces, including 300,000 personnel, whom he says “continue to fight valiantly on behalf of their country and defend the Afghan people, at a great cost.”
The President also saluted the victims of the September 11 attacks that led to the US invasion of Afghanistan.
“We went to Afghanistan because of a terrible attack 20 years ago. This cannot explain why we should stay there in 2021,” he said.
The agreement signed in February 2020 stipulates that the United States and its NATO allies will withdraw all forces by May 2021 if the Taliban fulfill their promises, including not allowing al-Qaeda or other armed groups to operate in the areas they control, and to move forward with National peace talks.
Although the Taliban stopped attacks on international forces as part of the historic agreement, they continued to fight the Afghan government. Last month, the Taliban threatened to resume hostilities against foreign forces still in the country on May 1.
A senior US official warned on Tuesday that the Taliban would “face a strong response” if US forces attack during the withdrawal phase.
What do the Afghans say?
Reuters reported that Abdullah Abdullah, head of the country’s Supreme Council for National Reconciliation, said on Wednesday that news of the withdrawal of foreign forces meant “we need to find a way to coexist.”
He added, “We believe that there is no victor in the Afghan conflicts, and we hope that the Taliban will realize that as well.”
Afghans from different parts of the country told the BBC that they were concerned about the news.
“I don’t think the conditions are right for a withdrawal,” said Rowena Usmani, who lives in the western province of Herat, on the border with Iran.
She added, “The international community has not fulfilled its obligations yet, and there is talk of the Taliban returning to power-sharing.”
“We are concerned that we may lose all the achievements of the past twenty years, especially for women. There must be guarantees that we will not go back to the dark days of twenty years ago,” she added.
“If the American forces want to leave Afghanistan, they must do so with a plan. If not, I am afraid that Afghanistan will return to civil war,” said Muhammad Askar, a resident of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.
Wear, a resident of the northern province of Baghlan, said that the United States “should seek to reach an agreement with all stakeholders, including the Taliban.”
Otherwise, Afghanistan might descend into a war that would be catastrophic, not only for Afghanistan, but for the entire world.
American military intervention in Afghanistan
October 2001: The US-led bombing of Afghanistan begins in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the United States
February 2009: NATO countries pledge to increase military and other commitments in Afghanistan after the United States announced sending 17,000 additional troops
December 2009: US President Barack Obama decided to increase the number of US forces in Afghanistan by 30,000, bringing the total to 100,000. He said the United States would start withdrawing its forces by 2011
October 2014: The United States and Britain end their combat operations in Afghanistan
March 2015: President Obama announces that his country will postpone the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan at the request of President Ashraf Ghani
October 2015: President Obama announced that 9,800 US troops would remain in Afghanistan until the end of 2016, reversing a previous pledge to withdraw all but 1,000 troops from the country.
July 2016: Obama says 8,400 US troops will remain in Afghanistan until 2017 in light of the “unstable security situation.” NATO also agreed to maintain troop numbers and reiterated its pledge to fund local security forces through 2020
August 2017: US President Donald Trump says he will send more troops to fight the Taliban
September 2019: Prolonged peace talks between the Taliban and the United States collapse
February 2020: After months of sporadic talks, the United States signs a troop withdrawal agreement with the Taliban in Doha