US president firm on bringing combat troops in Afghanistan to zero, senior administration official says.
US President Joe Biden has ordered the full withdraw of all combat troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.
The official, who spoke to reporters on condition ahead of Biden’s formal announcement expected on Wednesday, said the president is firm on bringing US forces to zero by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Biden’s timeline will, however, run afoul of a US-Taliban agreement brokered under former President Donald Trump that called for the full US exit to be completed no later than May 1.
The Taliban had threatened to resume attacks against US forces if the deadline was not met. The official warned against any such action as the process to pull US and NATO forces from the county unwind, saying any attacks “on US troops will be met with a forceful response.”
The US president has repeatedly hinted in recent weeks that the Trump administration-negotiated deadline would not be met, saying on March 25 it would be “hard to meet” that timeline.
Transcript of President Biden Speech
Joe Biden: (00:00)
Good afternoon. I’m speaking to you today from the Roosevelt, the Treaty Room in the White House, the same spot where on October of 2001, President George W. Bush informed our nation the United States military had begun strikes on terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. It was just weeks, just weeks after the terrorist attack on our nation that killed 2,977 innocent souls, that turned lower Manhattan into a disaster area, destroyed parts of the Pentagon and made hallowed ground of a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and sparked an American promise that we would never forget. We went to Afghanistan in 2001 to root out Al-Qaeda, to prevent future terrorist attacks against the United States planned from Afghanistan. Our objective was clear. The cause was just. Our NATO allies and partners rallied beside us. And I supported that military action along with an overwhelming majority of the members of Congress.
Joe Biden: (01:14)
More than seven years later in 2008, weeks before we swore the oath of office, President Obama and I were about to swear, President Obama asked me to travel to Afghanistan and report back on the state of the war in Afghanistan. I flew to Afghanistan to the Kunar Valley, a rugged mountainous region on the border with Pakistan. What I saw on that trip reinforced my conviction that only the Afghans have the right and responsibility to lead their country, and that more and endless American military force could not create or sustain a durable Afghan government.
Joe Biden: (01:54)
I believed that our presence in Afghanistan should be focused on the reason we went in the first place: To ensure Afghanistan would not be used as a base from which to attack our homeland again. We did that. We accomplished that objective. I said, among with others, we’d follow Osama Bin Laden to the gates of hell, if need be. That’s exactly what we did, and we got him. It took us close to 10 years to put president Obama’s commitment into form. And that’s exactly what happened. Osama Bin Ladin was gone.
Joe Biden: (02:32)
That was 10 years ago. Think about that. We delivered justice to Bin Laden a decade ago, and we’ve stayed in Afghanistan for a decade since.
Joe Biden: (02:44)
Since then, our reasons for remaining in Afghanistan have become increasingly unclear, even as the terrorist threat that we went to fight evolved. Over the past 20 years, the threat has become more dispersed, metastasizing around the globe. Al-Shabaab in Somalia, Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, Al-Nusra in Syria, ISIS attempting to create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq and establishing affiliates in multiple countries in Africa and Asia. With the terror threat now in many places, keeping thousands of troops grounded and concentrated in just one country at a cost of billions each year makes little sense to me and to our leaders. We can not continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan, hoping to create ideal conditions for the withdrawal and expecting a different result.
Joe Biden: (03:48)
I’m now the fourth United States president to preside over American true presence in Afghanistan; two Republicans, two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility onto a fifth. After consulting closely with our allies and partners, with our military leaders and intelligence personnel, with our diplomats and our development experts, with the Congress and the vice president, as well as with Mr. Ghani and many others around the world. I concluded that as time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for American troops to come home.
Joe Biden: (04:25)
When I came to office, I inherited a diplomatic agreement, duly negotiated between the government of the United States and the Taliban, that all US forces would be out of Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, just three months after my inauguration. That’s what we inherited, that commitment. It is perhaps not what I would have negotiated myself, but it was an agreement made by the United States government; and that means something.
Joe Biden: (04:59)
In keeping with that agreement and with our national interest, the United States will begin our final withdrawal, begin it on May 1 of this year. We’ll not conduct a hasty rush to the exit. We’ll do it. 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. The Taliban should know that if they attack us as we draw down, we will defend ourselves and our partners with all the tools at our disposal.
Joe Biden: (05:37)
Our allies and partners have stood beside us shoulder to shoulder in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, and we’re deeply grateful for the contributions they have made to our shared mission and for the sacrifices they borne. The plan has long been: In together. Out together. US troops as well as forces deployed by our NATO allies and operational partners will be out of Afghanistan before we mark the 20th anniversary of that heinous attack on September 11th. But we’ll not take our eye off the terrorist threat.
Joe Biden: (06:15)
We’ll reorganize our counter-terrorism capabilities and the substantial assets in the region to prevent re-emergence of terrorists, the threat to our homeland from over the horizon. We’ll hold the Taliban accountable for its commitment not to allow any terrorists to threaten the United States or its allies from Afghan soil. The Afghan government has made that commitment to us as well. We’ll focus our full attention on the threat we face today. At my direction, my team is refining our national strategy to monitor and disrupt significant terrorist threats, not only in Afghanistan, but anywhere they may arise. And they’re in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere.
Joe Biden: (07:03)
I spoke yesterday with President Bush to inform him of my decision. While he and I have had many disagreements over policy throughout the years, we’re absolutely united in our respect and support for the valor, courage and integrity of the women and men of the United States armed forces who served. I’m immensely grateful for the bravery and backbone that they have shown through nearly two decades of combat deployments. We as a nation have forever indebted to them and to their families. You all know that less than 1% of American serve in armed forces. The remaining 99%, we owe them. We owe them. They’ve never backed down from a single mission that we’ve asked of them. I’ve witnessed their bravery firsthand during my visits to Afghanistan. They’ve never wavered in their resolve. They’ve paid a tremendous price on our behalf, and they have the thanks of a grateful nation.
Joe Biden: (08:06)
While we’ll not stay involved in Afghanistan militarily, our diplomatic and humanitarian work will continue. We’ll continue to support the government of Afghanistan. We will keep providing assistance to the Afghan national defenses and security forces. Along with our partners, we have trained and equipped a standing force of over 300,000 Afghan personnel today and hundreds of thousands over the past two decades. They’ll continue to fight valiantly on behalf of the Afghans at great cost. They’ll support peace talks, as we will support peace talks between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, facilitated by the United Nations. And we’ll continue to support the rights of Afghan women and girls by maintaining significant humanitarian and development assistance.
Joe Biden: (08:58)
We’ll ask other countries, other countries in the region, to do more to support Afghanistan, especially Pakistan, as well as Russia, China, India, and Turkey. They all have a significant stake in a stable future for Afghanistan. Over the next few months, we’ll also determine what a continued US diplomatic presence in Afghanistan will look like, including how we’ll ensure the security of our diplomats.
Joe Biden: (09:26)
Look, I know there are many who will loudly insist that diplomacy cannot succeed without a robust US military presence to stand as leverage. We gave that argument a decade. It’s never proved effective, not when we had 98,000 troops in Afghanistan and not when we were down to a few thousand. Our diplomacy does not hinge on having boots in harm’s way, US boots on the ground. We have to change that thinking. American troops shouldn’t be used as a bargaining chip between warring parties in other countries. That’s nothing more than a recipe for keeping American troops in Afghanistan indefinitely.
Joe Biden: (10:10)
I also know there are many who’ll argue that we should stay, stay fighting in Afghanistan because withdrawal would damage America’s credibility and weaken America’s influence in the world. I believe the exact opposite is true. We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021.
Joe Biden: (10:37)
Rather than return to war the Taliban, we have to focus on the challenges that are in front of us. We have to track and disrupt terrorist networks and operations that spread far beyond Afghanistan since 9/11. We have to shore up American competitiveness to meet the stiff competition we’re facing from an increasingly assertive China. We have to strengthen our alliances and work with like-minded partners to ensure that the rules of international norms that govern cyber threats and emerging technologies that will shape our future are grounded in our democratic values, not those of the autocrats. We have to defeat this pandemic and strengthen the global health system to prepare for the next one, because there will be another pandemic. We’ll be much more formidable to our adversaries and competitors over the long term, if we fight the battles for the next 20 years, not the last 20.
Joe Biden: (11:34)
Finally, the main argument for staying longer, as each of my three predecessors have grappled with, no one wants to say that we should be in Afghanistan forever, but they insist now is not the right moment to leave. In 2014, NATO issued a declaration affirming that Afghan security forces would from that point on have full responsibility for the country’s security by the end of that year. That was seven years ago. So when will it be the right moment to leave? One more year? Two more years? 10 more years? 10, 20, $30 billion more on the trillion we’ve already spent? Not now? That’s how we got here. At this moment, there’s a significant downside risk to staying beyond May 1st without a clear timetable for departure.
Joe Biden: (12:34)
If we instead pursue the approach where America, US exit, is tied to conditions on the ground, we have to have clear answers to the following questions: Just what conditions would be required to allow us to depart? By what means and how long would it take to achieve them, if they could be achieved at all? And at what additional cost in lives and treasure? I’ve not heard any good answers to these questions. If you can’t answer them, in my view, we should not stay.
Joe Biden: (13:11)
The fact is that later today, I’m going to visit Arlington National Cemetery, Section 60, and that sacred memorial to American sacrifice. Section 60 is where our recent war dead are buried, including many of the women and men who died fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is no comforting distance in history in section 60. The grief is raw. It’s a visceral reminder of the living cost of war.
Joe Biden: (13:46)
For the past 12 years, ever since I became vice-president, I’ve carried with me a card that reminds me of the exact number of American troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. That exact number, not an approximation or rounded off number because every one of those dead are sacred human beings who left behind entire families, an exact accounting of every single solitary one needs to be had. As of today, there are 2,488 US troops and personnel who’ve died in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, our Afghanistan conflicts. 20,722 have been wounded.
Joe Biden: (14:41)
I’m the first president in 40 years who knows what it means to have a child serving in a war zone. Throughout this process, my North Star has been remembering what it was like when my late-son Beau was deployed to Iraq. How proud he was to serve his country. How insistent he was to deploy with his unit and the impact it had on him and all of us at home.
Joe Biden: (15:09)
We already have service members doing their duty in Afghanistan today whose parents served in the same war. We have service members who were not yet born when our nation was attacked on 9/11. War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multi-generational undertaking. We were attacked. We went to war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives. Bin Ladin is dead and Al-Qaeda is degraded in Afghanistan. And it’s time to end the forever war.
Joe Biden: (15:45)
Thank you all for listening. May God protect our troops. May God bless all those families who lost someone in this endeavor.