WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden says that it will be “tough” for the U.S. to meet a May 1 deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan but that the complete drawdown won’t take much longer.
The deadline to end America’s longest war six weeks from now was set under an agreement reached by former President Donald Trump and the Taliban, without the buy-in of the Afghan government.
Biden, in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that aired Wednesday, said he was consulting with allies on the pace of the drawdown. Of meeting the May 1 deadline, he said it “could happen, but it is tough.” If the deadline is extended, he added, it won’t be by “a lot longer.”
Biden, like his predecessor, has promised to end the nearly 20-year conflict and bring home more than 2,500 American troops in the country — down from about 13,000 troops a year ago. The Trump deal caught some American allies off guard, as the roughly 7,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan rely on the U.S. for logistics and security support.
“That was not a very solidly negotiated deal that the president, the former president worked out,” Biden said in the interview. “We’re in consultation with our allies as well as the government, and that decision is in process now.”
With less than two months before the deadline to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, local security forces there are unprepared to stand up on their own despite years of training and investment from foreign allies, a government watchdog warned lawmakers on Tuesday.
“Achieving our counterterrorism reconstruction objectives depends on a strong, stable, democratic and self-reliant Afghanistan. Unfortunately, Afghanistan is far from that reality,” said John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
“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.”
The disturbing assessment comes after more than 19 years of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan to root out terrorism and stabilize local governments there. It also comes as the White House struggles with upcoming decisions on whether to fully end the military mission there or prolong the lengthy conflict.
More than 2,500 U.S. troops have died, and nearlly 21,000 wounded in support of operations in Afghanistan, according to Pentagon figures.