US, UK, NATO to withdraw troops from Afghanistan

Saturday, April 17, 2021

On Wednesday, the US President Joe Biden announced plans to withdraw from Afghanistan by September 11, officially ending the US' involvement in the 20-year-long war in Afghanistan. Similar troop withdrawals by the United Kingdom and NATO were also announced.

US rifleman patrolling Zabul province, Afghanistan in September 2011.
Image: Grovent Fuentes-Contreras.

Former US President Donald Trump had set May 1 as the deadline. Both the US and NATO allies are to begin troop withdrawals on May 1. The date of conclusion of the US withdrawal is to coincides with the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, incidents which began the US-led incursion into Afghanistan, now the nation's longest war.

Speaking from the room George W. Bush announced the US had launched airstrikes on Al-Qaeda training camps, Biden said "[w]e went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021. [...] We cannot 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". On the war's longevity, Biden said "I'm now the fourth United States president to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan: two Republicans, two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth".

Biden said of a worldwide threat assessment claiming "the Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield" and "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." Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a tweet "we will work with our U.S. partners to ensure a smooth transition."

The US currently has about 2500 troops stationed in Afghanistan of a NATO mission of 9600; according to NPR, as many as 1000 special operations forces may be present as well. However, combat operations from both the US and UK ended in October 2014.

Biden said "[i]t's time for American troops to come home", the exit will be done "responsibly, deliberately and safely". Though NATO and the United Kingdom will join the US in making considerable withdrawals in the coming months, according to the BBC the US will continue "diplomatic and humanitarian work" in Afghanistan.

NATO has said they have achieved their goal of "prevent[ing] terrorists from using Afghanistan as a safe haven to attack us", and "[t]here is no military solution to the challenges Afghanistan faces". According to Politico, NATO' statement read: "Our troops went into Afghanistan together, we have adjusted together, and now we are leaving together". Defence Minister of Germany, a NATO member, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told the German public broadcaster ARD "we'll go in together, we'll leave together. I am for an orderly withdrawal".

Pledging co-operation, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Brussels "I am here to work closely with our allies [...] on the principle that we have established from the start: In together, adapt together and out together."

According to the BBC, in announcing the British "drawdown" Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said while "[t]he people of Afghanistan deserve a peaceful and stable future", "the security of our people currently serving in Afghanistan remains our priority and we have been clear that attacks on Allied troops will be met with a forceful response." Wallace said in his statement "we must remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, who will never be forgotten."

After a phone call to the former President Bush, Biden said "[w]e're absolutely united in our respect and support for the valor, the courage and integrity of the women and men of the United States armed forces who have served".

In the United States Senate, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the move "a grave mistake", adding "[f]oreign terrorists will not leave the United States alone simply because our politicians have grown tired of taking the fight to them." Republican Representative Liz Cheney called it "a huge victory, huge propaganda victory, for the Taliban, for Al-Qaida". Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan criticised the plan saying "Withdrawal of U.S. troops must be based on the facts on the ground, not arbitrary deadlines". Her fellow Democrat Elizabeth Warren said Biden "recognizes the reality that our continued presence there does not make the U.S. or the world safer." Former US President Barack Obama gave his support as well, saying it was "the right decision".

Director of the US' Central Intelligence Agency told the Senate "I think we have to be clear-eyed about the reality, looking at the potential terrorism challenge", there is a "significant risk" and "Al-Qaida and ISIS in Afghanistan" could pose a threat to "US targets".