Biden announces U.S. military mission in Afghanistan will end August 31
( CBS )
President Biden said the withdrawal from Afghanistan of U.S troops after 20 years of war will conclude on August 31, ahead of the September 11 deadline he announced in mid-April.
When Mr. Biden announced the U.S. military would leave Afghanistan by September 11, about 3,500 troops remained. The Pentagon said earlier this week that the withdrawal was 90% complete.
U.S. forces last week exited Bagram Airfield, the largest American base in the country. The turnover of Bagram to the Afghan National Security Forces completed the U.S. transfer of all seven bases to Afghanistan, in effect, finishing the logistical part of the withdrawal.
Mr. Biden has said the U.S. will continue to have a diplomatic presence in the country. To maintain an embassy in Kabul, several hundred troops will remain for protection, and more could support the security of Kabul International Airport.
Although the president made August 31 the formal deadline for U.S. troops to be out of Afghanistan, the withdrawal is for all intents and purposes complete, since control of Bagram was turned over to the Afghans. The commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, will soon be leaving the remaining forces in the charge of a two-star general.
The military supports the president's decision, even if top military advisers may not initially have concluded that the U.S. should withdraw. But Mr. Biden heard what they had to say, met with them at least half a dozen times, and showed he was reading the briefing books. Ultimately both agreed that the U.S. could not stay in Afghanistan forever — there are greater threats facing the nation than al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
As U.S. troops have been withdrawing, the Taliban has been steadily seizing more territory. In the past two months, it has taken control of more than 80 of the 407 districts in Afghanistan, according to the Long War Journal, which closely tracks the conflict. In the past week alone, the Taliban has taken 10% of the country, currently controlling 195 districts.
Mr. Biden told reporters it is not inevitable the Taliban would take control of the country, and and said he does not trust the Taliban but trusts the ability of the Afghan National and Defense Security Forces. But Mr. Biden insisted to reporters "first of all, the mission hasn't failed. Yet" and reminded that Afghanistan has "never" been a united country.
Along with the withdrawal of troops, the U.S. is still working on airlifting over 60,000 Afghans — 18,000 interpreters and their families —out of the country to protect them from Taliban reprisals. Mr. Biden has promised that the Afghans who have risked so much to help the U.S. "are not going to be left behind."
Mr. Biden announced that starting the month, the administration will begin relocation flights to third countries outside of Afghanistan for the applicants and their families that would like to leave.
"There is a home for you in the United States if you so choose and we will stand with you as you stood with us," Mr. Biden said.
When asked what would the U.S. would do if Kabul fell, Mr. Biden said the U.S. would make a determination based on the danger to the United States of America.