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Biden says Trump’s May 1 deadline to pull US troops from Afghanistan will be ‘tough’ to meet

President Joe Biden in the White House Oval Office.(Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
March 17, 2021

In an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America that aired Wednesday, President Joe Biden said the U.S. may miss former President Donald Trump’s “tough” May 1 deadline to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.

“I’m in the process of making that decision now as to when they’ll leave,” Biden told ABC host George Stephanopoulos. “The fact is that, that was not a very solidly negotiated deal that the president — the former president —worked out. And so we’re in consultation with our allies as well as the government, and that decision’s going to be — it’s in process now.”

Trump reached an agreement with the Taliban at the end of February 2020, to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan within a 14-month period, setting the May 1, 2021 deadline for finishing the withdrawal, a process and timeline Biden said is difficult.

“It could happen,” Biden said on Wednesday, “but it is tough.”

Throughout the 2020 presidential campaign season, Trump pushed his plans to bring the final U.S. troops home from a nearly 20-year war, and even said the troops should be home by Christmas. During the campaign season, Biden said he opposed “unnecessary, endless wars” but did not commit to specific withdrawal plans and said some U.S. presence should remain in the region for counterterrorism operations.

In exchange for the U.S. troop withdrawal, the Taliban was expected to commit to reducing violence in the country, cutting off ties with terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, and meeting with the Afghan government for intra-Afghan peace negotiations. While violence against U.S. troops in the country has ceased, Taliban forces have continued to attacks on the Afghan government and peace negotiations between the two sides have seen delays and disagreements.

Efforts to wind down the U.S. presence in Afghanistan have also been complicated by political roadblocks. A provision in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), requires the Pentagon to study the potential security risks of reducing U.S. forces in Afghanistan below 4,000 and again below 2,000, before the president can authorize troop reductions below those levels.

In his final days in office, Trump moved to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan to 2,500, a figure military officials said had been reached on Jan. 15. U.S. European and Afghan officials who spoke with the New York Times this week, said there are about 1,000 more U.S. troops in Afghanistan than previously reported, putting the true number of U.S. troops in the country is actually about 3,500.

Biden’s Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said, last month, there would be a “thoughtful and deliberate” review of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and there would be “no surprises” in the pace of troop withdrawals.