Washington, 14 April 2021 (dpa/MIA) – The United States will be removing its troops from Afghanistan starting on May 1, leading up to a total withdrawal by September 11 and ushering in an end to almost two decades of boots on the ground.
“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 11,” US President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday.
“It’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for American troops to come home,” he said.
“War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multi-generational undertaking.”
Biden said that he had inherited a diplomatic agreement and that while it might not have been what he would have negotiated, he would begin the final withdrawal on May 1, in line with the US commitment.
The US would not conduct a hasty rush to the exit, but would withdraw responsibly, safely and “in full coordination with our allies and partners,” Biden said.
The United States’ NATO allies have determined to follow Washington out of Afghanistan.
NATO countries and partners will start withdrawing their remaining 10,000 troops by May 1 and will wrap up this process “within a few months,” according to a joint statement from the alliance’s foreign and defence ministers.
Earlier, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he had spoken to Biden about the US forces’ withdrawal.
“The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan respects the US decision and we will work with our US partners to ensure a smooth transition,” Ghani tweeted.
He added that Afghan forces were “fully capable of defending its people and country.”
The moves come almost 20 years after a US invasion that was a response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
What began as an effort to overthrow the Taliban regime – which had provided support and shelter to the terrorists who planned the attack – became the longest war Washington has ever waged.
NATO’s mission is no longer a combat one, but rather supports Afghanistan’s internationally-backed and democratically elected government by training and advising security forces in their fight against Islamist extremists including the Taliban.
Former US president Donald Trump struck a deal with the Taliban last year, agreeing to withdraw all US and international troops from Afghanistan by May 1, leaving Biden little remove to manoeuvre on the future of the mission.
Wednesday’s announcement met with a mixed response in Afghanistan. The former head of Afghanistan’s independent human rights commission Sima Samar called the unconditional withdrawal “unfortunate.”
An Afghan peace negotiator went further. “It is the most irresponsible, selfish thing the United States could do to its Afghan partners,” the source, who wished not to be named, told dpa.
The negotiator said it might be the end of the war for Washington, but that Afghan partners will pay the price.
“They could have ended this in a responsible way, with a little more patience,” they said.
Ahead of Biden’s official announcement, the Taliban reiterated its call for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan by May 1.
“This is not an easy decision, and it entails risk,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels alongside the US secretaries of state and defence.
The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and cost hundreds of billions of dollars over the years.
But if the alliance pulls out, it risks jeopardizing the gains made on education, health and women’s rights.
And if the Taliban regains definitive control of the territory, this could take the allies back to square one.
The Taliban movement, which still controls roughly 10 per cent of Afghanistan, has continued carrying out attacks in various parts of the country despite the start of direct peace talks between the internationally backed Afghan government and the militants in Qatar in mid-September.