The United States will withdraw all remaining troops from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, President Biden will announce Wednesday, turning the page on a conflict that has cost trillions of dollars and the lives of more than 2,300 American troops.
“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021,” Biden is expected to say, according to excerpts released by the White House. He will say the U.S. cannot continue “hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result.”
The withdrawal of U.S. troops will represents the most consequential military decision that Biden has made since taking office, and will complete a process that began under the Obama administration, starting with a drawdown from a peak of more than 100,000 U.S. service members in the country in 2011. It’s a decision that makes good on a campaign pledge to end “forever wars,” but carries significant political and national security risks if Afghanistan backslides into a haven for terrorists intent on attacking the United States, a concern raised even by Biden’s Democratic allies in Congress.
As of 2021, some 2,500 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan. As many as 1,000 more special operations forces are also reported to be in the country. Biden is expected to say the U.S. will continue diplomatic and humanitarian work in the country, including assistance to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.
Biden’s predecessor, former President Donald Trump, had pledged to the Taliban a full withdrawal of U.S. troops by May 1, which Biden had previously said would be “tough” to meet.
A senior administration official told reporters on Tuesday that the withdrawal would not be conditions-based, as Biden had deemed such an approach “a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever.”
Some U.S. personnel will remain in the country, which the administration official said would be necessary to protect America’s diplomatic presence in the country.