Biden extends deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by 9/11 anniversary

Biden extends deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by 9/11 anniversary
President Joe Biden has decided to leave American troops in Afghanistan beyond the May 1 deadline negotiated with the Taliban by the Trump administration.
3 min read
Biden has extended the deadline [Getty]

President Joe Biden has decided to leave American troops in Afghanistan beyond the May 1 deadline negotiated with the Taliban by the Trump administration, and has set the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks as the new goal, a U.S. official said Tuesday.

Biden has been hinting for weeks that he was going to let the deadline lapse, and as the days went by it became clear that an orderly withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 troops was difficult and unlikely.

A U.S. official provided details on Biden's decision on condition of anonymity, speaking ahead of the announcement.

The decision was first reported by The Washington Post.

Biden has been under pressure from both camps in the US government - those that want to withdraw troops and those that do not.

On the one hand, he has argued for years, including during his time as vice president, when President Barack Obama ordered a huge buildup of US forces, that Afghanistan is better handled as a smaller-scale counterterrorism mission.

Countering Russia and China has since emerged as a higher priority.

On the other hand, current and former military officers have argued that leaving now, with the Taliban in a position of relative strength and the Afghan government in a fragile state, would risk losing what has been gained in 20 years of fighting.

"A withdrawal would not only leave America more vulnerable to terrorist threats; it would also have catastrophic effects in Afghanistan and the region that would not be in the interest of any of the key actors, including the Taliban," a bipartisan experts group known as the Afghan Study Group concluded in a February report.

The group, whose co-chair, retired Gen. Joseph Dunford, is a former commander of US forces in Afghanistan and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, had recommended Biden extend the deadline beyond May, preferably with some sort of agreement by the Taliban.

If the troops stay, Afghanistan will become Biden’s war.

His decisions, now and in coming months, could determine the legacy of a 2001 US invasion that was designed as a response to al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks, for which the extremist group led by Osama bin Laden used Afghanistan as a haven.

Biden said during the 2020 campaign that if elected he might keep a counterterrorism force in Afghanistan but also would "end the war responsibly" to ensure US forces never have to return.

The peace talks that began last fall between the Taliban and the Afghan government are seen as the best hope, but they have produced little so far.

Postponing the US withdrawal carries the risk of the Taliban resuming attacks on US and coalition forces, possibly escalating the war. In a February 2020 agreement with the administration of President Donald Trump, the Taliban agreed to halt such attacks and hold peace talks with the Afghan government, in exchange for a US commitment to a complete withdrawal by May 2021.

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