President Joe Biden intends to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that started the decades-long conflict, congressional officials confirmed Tuesday.
News of the withdrawal deadline was first reported by the Washington Post. Biden had faced a deadline set by the previous administration of removing all U.S. military forces from the country by May 1, but publicly admitted meeting that deadline was unlikely.
Still, White House officials have said Biden remained committed to ending the ongoing U.S. military presence there. In March, during a press conference, Biden said he did not see a scenario where U.S. troops were still in Afghanistan in 2022.
Defense Department officials have said there are about 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan performing training and counterterrorism missions. Another 7,000 foreign forces are also in the country, helping to support the still-inexperienced Afghan security forces.
In March, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction warned in congressional testimony that despite billions spent on fortifying local security forces in the war-torn Asian country, “Afghan security forces are nowhere near achieving self-sufficiency, as they cannot maintain their equipment, manage their supply chains or train new soldiers, pilots and policemen.”
Officials also noted that there is little evidence in recent months that the Taliban fighters are prepared to lay down their arms and take up diplomatic posts with the new government, which was supposed to be a key part of the peace deal and May 1 withdrawal.
The Washington Post reported that Biden was expected to officially announce the September withdrawal deadline on Wednesday.
The news drew swift reactions from across the political spectrum. Some lawmakers criticized the reported plans as reckless and argued Biden was abandoning Afghanistan to terrorists.
“Arbitrary deadlines would likely put our troops in danger, jeopardize all the progress we’ve made, and lead to civil war in Afghanistan—and create a breeding ground for international terrorists,” said the Senate Armed Services Committee’s ranking member, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. “We’re talking about protecting American lives here.”
A senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, said she was “very disappointed” by the move.
“Although this decision was made in coordination [with] our allies, the U.S. has sacrificed too much to bring stability to Afghanistan to leave [without] verifiable assurances of a secure future,” she said in a tweet.
Others felt that after 20 years, it’s time. It’s the “right move and finally ends the longest war in American history,” said Rep. Andy Kim, a former advisor to retired Gen. David Petraeus, when he led U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
“Our military has decimated Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and prevented them from regaining safe haven,” said Kim, D-N.J. “We will stay vigilant against terrorism threats, whether in Afghanistan or anywhere in the world, and continue to make the security of our homeland our top priority.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.