Biden Plans For U.S. Troops To Be Out Of Afghanistan By Sept. 11 Of This Year
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
President Biden has decided that all U.S. troops - some 3,500 - will leave Afghanistan by September, bringing a close to America's longest war. The move comes 20 years after U.S. troops overthrew the Taliban government because it refused to turn over the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden. Biden hinted at a withdrawal last month when a reporter asked him this question about whether U.S. troops would be in Afghanistan next year.
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UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: Do you believe, though, it's possible we could have troops there next year?
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I can't picture that being the case.
CHANG: Joining us now to talk about this is NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, who has traveled to Afghanistan many, many times over the last two decades, often embedding with U.S. troops.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: So what more can you tell us about this expected withdrawal?
BOWMAN: Well, a senior administration official told reporters today the president would make a formal announcement about the withdrawal tomorrow. The official said troops will begin leaving before May 1, which, of course, is the deadline for all foreign troops to leave under the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed by the Trump administration last year. The Biden administration had proposed a peace conference in Turkey this month to create a transition government or maybe power sharing. The Taliban refused.
Now, add to all this. U.S. military leaders had recommended that those several thousand U.S. troops remain with no timetable, Ailsa. They wanted the Taliban to agree to conditions from their agreement - reduce violence, break with al-Qaida - which has not happened. The administration officials said such a so-called conditions-based approach has been going on for two decades and is a, quote, "recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever." He also added, this official, that the estimated 7,000 additional NATO troops would draw down along the same timeline.
CHANG: Well, does this new deadline come as a surprise? I mean, what's been the reaction so far?
BOWMAN: You know, it was something of a surprise, even though, again, Biden hinted that he couldn't imagine U.S. troops in Afghanistan next year. And he was never supportive as vice president of sending more and more troops there. Military officials were unaware of his decision, as was the Afghan government, which fears a civil war. A few members of Congress were told about this beforehand.
Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, said he learned about it from press reports, and he wants to hear the administration's rationale. He, like many others, said he's concerned the Taliban will backslide on things like women's rights, human rights, saying there'll be no money flowing, no American assistance if that happens. And that's something Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said, that the Taliban must not continue its military campaign, and if it does, will not get international recognition or the billions of dollars in aid each year.
CHANG: Well, Tom, I mean, the whole reason for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was to prevent it from becoming a haven for groups like al-Qaida. So what's to prevent that from happening again?
BOWMAN: Well, U.S. officials say al-Qaida presence has grown in Afghanistan, but the administration official said the U.S. will, what he termed, reposition its counterterrorism forces, presumably to a neighboring country and continue to keep watch over Afghanistan. The official also said, listen, such terror threats are now more dispersed, to include countries like Yemen, Syria, Somalia and other parts of Africa.
CHANG: That is NPR's Tom Bowman.
Thank you, Tom.
BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.