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Biden Plans To Withdraw U.S. Troops From Afghanistan, Ending America's Longest War

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today, President Biden said America's longest war is almost over. By this September 11, he says U.S. combat troops will be out of Afghanistan.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021. Rather than return to war with the Taliban, we have to focus on the challenges that are in front of us.

KELLY: Joining me from the White House to talk about this decision and what it means, NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson.

Hey, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: Why is the president making this decision and why now?

LIASSON: President Biden believes that the U.S. did what it set out to do in Afghanistan. He says, in 20 years, we've prevented more large scale al-Qaida attacks. We eventually got Osama bin Laden. By the way, Biden noted he did call President Bush, the first of four presidents to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. He says the terrorist threat has changed. It's metastasized to other parts of the world. Plus, we have other threats like China.

And this is a rare but significant point of agreement between President Biden and Donald Trump, who signed an agreement with the Taliban to leave Afghanistan by May 1. Biden thought that was a little too soon, but he'll start pulling out on May 1. He also confronted the question that's faced the past four presidents, which is, should you wait around for a conditions-based withdrawal? Because that's a recipe in his mind for staying there forever. Here's what he said.

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BIDEN: We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create ideal conditions for the withdrawal and expecting a different result.

KELLY: Mara, he's talking about a military calculation there.

LIASSON: Yes.

KELLY: What about the political calculation for Biden?

LIASSON: I think in the short term, the politics are pretty good. The public is tired of this war after 20 years. I think in the long term, the political risks could be enormous, though. And Republican critics are talking about that. Some of them were also opposed to Trump's plan to pull out on May 1. What if the Taliban waits us out? What if al-Qaida and ISIS come back in? What if Kabul falls? What if Afghan women are oppressed again? Also, can the U.S. contain that with just troops in the region, not in the country?

And also, we've seen this movie before. Remember, we pulled troops out of Iraq in 2011. And ISIS came along. And we had to send troops back. But this is Biden's first major decision as commander in chief. It's something he has always believed in. He was against the last surge in Afghanistan, and he's willing to take the risk.

KELLY: Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR's Mara Liasson at the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.