Washington: America’s nearly 20-year military mission in Afghanistan will end on August 31, President Joe Biden has announced, saying the US did not go to the war-torn country to “nation-build.”
Strongly defending his decision to pull US troops out of America’s longest-running war, Biden said no amount of sustained American military presence in Afghanistan could resolve the country’s own intractable problems.
In a major policy address on Afghanistan on Thursday after a meeting with his national security team, Biden said the US has accomplished its goals in the country and this was the appropriate time to withdraw American soldiers.
“Our military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on August 31st. The drawdown is proceeding in a secure and orderly way, prioritising the safety of our troops as they depart,” Biden told reporters at the White House.
“We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build. And it’s the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country,” he said, just days after the US pulled out of the massive Bagram air base that became the operations centre of the war.
US forces have fought in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years, following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.
He explained that after spending USD 1 trillion over 20 years and seeing 2,448 American service personnel die and 20,722 more wounded, the US cannot remain tethered to a policy set two decades ago when Afghanistan-based al-Qaida terrorists attacked the country.
The president emphasised that he will not send “another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.”
On Tuesday, the US military announced the withdrawal process was more than 90 per cent complete.
Biden also dismissed reports that the Taliban would take over the country soon after the withdrawal of the American troops from Afghanistan.
The Afghan government and leadership has to come together. They clearly have the capacity to sustain the government in place. The question is will they generate the kind of cohesion to do it, Biden said.
“It’s not a question of whether they have the capacity. They have the capacity. They have the forces. They have the equipment. The question is will they do it. We are not going to walk away and not sustain their ability to maintain that force and we are. We’re also going to work to make sure we help them in terms of everything, necessities, and other things in the region,” he said.
He said the US military mission in Afghanistan will continue through the end of August.
“We retain personnel and capacities in the country. We maintained the same authority under which we’ve been operating for some time. The United States did what we went to do in Afghanistan, to get to terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and deliver justice to Osama bin Laden, and to degrade the terrorist threat to keep Afghanistan from becoming a base, from which attacks could be continued against the United States, he said.
Biden said the United States has achieved those objectives.
Intending to maintain US diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, Biden said his administration is coordinating closely with its international partners in order to continue to secure the international airport in Kabul.
“We are going to engage in a determined diplomacy to pursue peace and a peace agreement that will end this senseless violence, he said.
Biden said that he has asked his Secretary of State Antony Blinken and special representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad to work vigorously with the parties in Afghanistan, as well as the regional and international stakeholders to support a negotiated solution.
“To be clear, countries in the region have an essential role to play in supporting a peaceful settlement. We’ll work with them. They should help step up their efforts as well,” he said.
Biden said that when he made the decision to end the US military involvement in Afghanistan, he judged that it was not in the national interest of the United States of America to continue fighting this war indefinitely.
“I made the decision with clear eyes. And I’m briefed daily on the battlefield updates. But for those who have argued that we should stay for six more months or just one more year, I asked them to consider the lessons of recent history,” he said.
Nearly 20 years of experience has shown that the current security situation only confirms that just one more year fighting in Afghanistan is not a solution, but a recipe for being there indefinitely. It’s up to the Afghans to make the decision about the future of their country, he asserted.
The US, he said, is developing a counterterrorism over the horizon capability that will allow it to keep its eyes firmly fixed on any direct threats to the United States in the region and act quickly and decisively if needed.
“We also need to focus on shoring up America’s core strengths to meet the strategic competition with China and other nations that is really going to determine our future. We have to defeat COVID-19 at home and around the world, make sure we’re better prepared for the next pandemic or biological threat,” he said.
The US military exit from Afghanistan before September 11 stems from the February 2020 agreement Washington signed with the Taliban in return for counterterrorism guarantees and pledges the group would negotiate a political settlement to the war with the Afghan government.
In April, President Biden announced that the US will withdraw all remaining troops from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, in an effort to end a deadly conflict that has cost trillions of dollars and the lives of more than 2,300 American troops. PTI