US President Joe Biden has ordered the full withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan by no later than Sept. 11, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.
The official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity 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.
“This is not conditions-based. The president has judged that a conditions-based approach, which has been the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever,” the official said. “He has reached the conclusion that the United States will complete its drawdown, will remove its forces from Afghanistan before Sept. 11.”
While Sept. 11 has been marked as the end-day of Biden’s timeline, the withdrawal may be completed “well in advance” of September, the official added.
Biden’s plan 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 has threatened to resume attacks against US and partner 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 proceeds, 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.
While combat forces will be removed under Biden’s plan there will still be some US troops to protect diplomatic personnel at its embassy after the withdrawal is completed. The Biden administration is currently in the midst of planning that force posture, and the official said the process will continue amid the withdrawal.
Normally, US Marines are tasked with protecting US diplomatic facilities abroad.
Asked why the deadline is being moved so far ahead of the previous May timeline when the US could remove its roughly 2,500 troops before that, the official said the extra time is to allow all NATO forces “the time and space they need to conduct a safe and orderly withdrawal.”
“We will take the time we need to execute that, and no more time than that,” he said. “We believe we certainly can complete that by September, and the question of how long before September depends on conditions as the drawdown unfolds.”
The official’s comments were met with mixed reactions on Capitol Hill where Democratic congressman Ro Khanna lauded the decision, saying it marks the achievement of “an impossibility here in Washington: ending a forever war.”
“It is an act of extraordinary political courage and vision. After 20 years, thousands of lives lost, and trillions of dollars spent, we are finally bringing home our troops from Afghanistan,” Khanna said in a statement.
In stark contrast, congressman Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, blasted the decision, saying it “shows a complete disregard for the realities on the ground.”