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US to Withdraw Afghan Troops by Sept.  04/14 06:09

   President Joe Biden will withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 
11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America that were 
coordinated from that country, several U.S. officials said.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden will withdraw all U.S. troops from 
Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 
America that were coordinated from that country, several U.S. officials said.

   Biden will lay out his vision for the way forward in Afghanistan and the 
timeline for the withdrawal in remarks Wednesday afternoon, The White House 
said. Punctuating the nearly two decades U.S. troops have fought and died in 
Afghanistan, the president will then visit Section 60 of Arlington National 
Cemetery to honor the sacrifice of those who died in recent American conflicts.

   The decision to withdraw troops by fall defies a May 1 deadline for full 
withdrawal under a peace agreement the Trump administration reached with the 
Taliban last year, but leaves no room for additional extensions. A senior 
administration official on Tuesday called the September date an absolute 
deadline that won't be affected by security conditions in the country.

   While Biden's decision keeps U.S. troops in Afghanistan four months longer 
than initially planned, it sets a firm end to two decades of war that killed 
more than 2,200 U.S. troops, wounded 20,000, and cost as much as $1 trillion. 
The conflict largely crippled al-Qaida and led to the death of Osama bin Laden, 
the architect of the Sept. 11 attacks. But an American withdrawal also risks 
many of the gains made in democracy, women's rights and governance, while 
ensuring that the Taliban, who provided al-Qaida's haven, remain strong and in 
control of large swaths of the country.

   Biden has been hinting for weeks that he was going to let the May deadline 
lapse, and as the days went by it became clear that an orderly withdrawal of 
the roughly 2,500 remaining troops would be difficult and was unlikely. The 
administration official said the drawdown would begin by May 1.

   Biden's choice of the 9/11 date underscores the reason that American troops 
were in Afghanistan to begin with -- to prevent extremist groups like al-Qaida 
from establishing a foothold again that could be used to launch attacks against 
the U.S.

   The administration official said Biden decided that the withdrawal deadline 
had to be absolute, rather than based on conditions on the ground. "We're 
committing today to going to zero" U.S. forces by Sept. 11, and possibly well 
before, the official said, adding that Biden concluded that a conditioned 
withdrawal would be "a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever."

   Defense officials and commanders had argued against the May 1 deadline, 
saying the U.S. troop withdrawal should be based on security conditions in 
Afghanistan, including Taliban attacks and violence.

   White House press secretary Jen Psaki didn't provide details of Biden's 
remarks planned for Wednesday, but she said during a White House briefing that 
Biden "has been consistent in his view that there is not a military solution to 
Afghanistan, that we have been there for far too long."

   Psaki tweeted later Tuesday that Biden's visit to Arlington National 
Cemetery was "to pay his respects to the brave men and women who have paid the 
ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan."

   Several U.S. officials confirmed Biden's withdrawal decision to The 
Associated Press, and an administration official provided details to reporters 
on condition of anonymity, speaking ahead of the announcement.

   According to the administration official, the only U.S. forces remaining in 
Afghanistan will be those needed to protect diplomats there. No exact number 
was provided, but American troop totals in Afghanistan have been understated by 
U.S. administrations for years. Officials have quietly acknowledged that there 
are hundreds more in Afghanistan than the official 2,500 number, and likely 
would include special operations forces conducting covert or counterterrorism 
missions, often working with intelligence agency personnel.

   Biden's new, extended timeline will allow a safe and orderly withdrawal of 
American troops in coordination with NATO allies, the administration official 
added.

   The president's decision, however, risks retaliation by the Taliban on U.S. 
and Afghan forces, possibly escalating the 20-year war. And it will reignite 
political division over America's involvement in what many have called the 
endless war.

   An intelligence community report issued Tuesday about global challenges for 
the next year said prospects for a peace deal in Afghanistan are "low" and 
warned that "the Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield. If the 
coalition withdraws support, the report says, the Afghan government will 
struggle to control the Taliban.

   Congressional reaction to the new deadline was mixed.

   "Precipitously withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan is a grave mistake," 
said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "It is retreat in the face 
of an enemy that has not yet been vanquished and abdication of American 
leadership."

   Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed 
Services Committee, slammed it as a "reckless and dangerous decision." He said 
any withdrawal should be conditions-based, adding that arbitrary deadlines 
could put troops in danger, create a breeding ground for terrorists and lead to 
civil war in Afghanistan.

   Democrats were generally more supportive. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., chairman 
of the Armed Services Committee, said President Donald Trump's May 1 deadline 
limited Biden's options. "We still have vital interests in protecting against 
terrorist attacks that could be emanating from that part of the world, but 
there are other areas, too, we have to be conscious of," Reed said.

   Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said troops should come home, and the U.S. must 
refocus American national security on more pressing challenges.

   But at least one senior Democrat expressed disappointment. Sen. Jeanne 
Shaheen of New Hampshire said in a tweet that the U.S. "has sacrificed too much 
to bring stability to Afghanistan to leave w/o verifiable assurances of a 
secure future."

   Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told the AP that the religious militia 
is waiting for a formal announcement to issue its reaction. The Taliban 
previously warned the U.S. of "consequences" if it reneged on the May 1 
deadline.

   In a February 2020 agreement with the Trump administration, the Taliban 
agreed to halt attacks and hold peace talks with the Afghan government, in 
exchange for a U.S. commitment to a complete withdrawal by May 2021.

   Over the past year, U.S. military commanders and defense officials have said 
that attacks on U.S. troops have largely paused, but that Taliban attacks on 
the Afghans increased. Commanders have argued that the Taliban have failed to 
meet the conditions of the peace agreement by continuing attacks on the Afghans 
and failing to totally cut ties with al-Qaida and other extremist groups.

   When Biden entered the White House in January, he was keenly aware of the 
looming deadline and had time to meet it if he had chosen to do so. He began a 
review of the February 2020 agreement shortly after taking office, and has been 
consulting at length with his defense advisers and allies.

   In recent weeks, it became increasingly clear that he was leaning toward 
defying the deadline.

   "It's going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline," Biden said in March. 
"Just in terms of tactical reasons, it's hard to get those troops out." He 
added, "And if we leave, we're going to do so in a safe and orderly way."

 
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