On Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced the U.S. military would begin withdrawing the last U.S. troops from Afghanistan on May 1 and said “we’ll be out of Afghanistan before we mark the 20th anniversary of that heinous attack on September 11th.”
On the same day Biden announced his troop withdrawal timeline, the Taliban issued a warning that it expects the U.S. to meet the May 1 timeline agreed to under President Donald Trump and warned that U.S. troops that stay beyond May 1 “will bear the responsibility for that.”
The U.S. has been in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years since the Sept. 11, 2001 Al Qaeda terrorist attacks. The initial mission was to target Al Qaeda’s leadership, which had used Taliban-controlled Afghanistan as a safe haven for their terrorist planning. In the years since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the mission in the country has grown and the Global War on Terrorism has expanded to counter terrorist activities in other countries throughout the Middle East.
“We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result,” Biden said. “I am now the fourth United States president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth.”
Biden continued, “After consulting closely with our Allies and partners, with our military leaders and intelligence personnel, with our diplomats and development experts, with Congress and the Vice President as well as [Afghan President Ashraf Ghani] and many others around the world, I have concluded that it is time to end America’s longest war. It is time for American troops to come home.”
Biden said he made the decision after inheriting a diplomatic agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban, that stipulated all U.S. troops would leave Afghanistan by May 1 of 2021. Biden’s comments referred to a peace agreement brought forth under President Donald Trump.
As Biden has appeared to falter on meeting the May 1 deadline, the Taliban have warned it would resume attacks against U.S. forces if Biden does not stick to the agreed upon withdrawal deadline.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted, “The demand of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is the withdrawal of all foreign forces from our country on time according to the Doha Agreement. If the agreement is adhered to, a path will also be found to resolve the remaining issues. If the agreement is not adhered to and foreign forces fail to exit our country on the specified date, problems will certainly be compounded and those who failed to comply with the agreement will bear the responsibility for that.”
Last week the Taliban launched a rocket attack at a U.S. base in Afghanistan. While the rockets missed the base and caused no damage or casualties, the incident raises the threat that the Taliban could soon renew attacks on U.S. troops.
In his Wednesday remarks, Biden said the Trump-era agreement was “perhaps not what I would have negotiated myself but it was an agreement made by the United States government and that means something.” Biden added, “In keeping with that agreement, and with our national interests, the United States will begin our final withdrawal — begin it — on May 1 of this year.”
“We will not conduct a hasty rush to the exit,” Biden added. “We’ll do it responsibly, deliberately and safely and we will do it in full coordination with our allies and partners who now have more forces in Afghanistan than we do.”
Biden warned the Taliban that, if the group attacks U.S. forces during the withdrawal, “we will defend ourselves and our partners with all the tools at our disposal.”
When the Trump administration signed the U.S.-Taliban deal, about 13,000 U.S. troops were still present in the country. The Trump administration gradually pulled thousands of troops from the country in the ensuing months and on Jan. 15, the Pentagon announced there were just 2,500 U.S. troops remaining in the country.
The 2,500 U.S. troop figure has been challenged since the New York Times reported in March that the Pentagon had failed to disclose an extra 1,000 U.S. troops still stationed in the country, potentially putting the true U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan at about 3,500.