Chattanooga Times Free Press

Biden sets Aug. 31 date for U.S. exit


WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Thursday the U.S. military operation in Afghanista­n will end on Aug. 31, delivering an impassione­d argument for exiting the nearly 20-year war without sacrificin­g more American lives even as he bluntly acknowledg­ed there will be no “mission accomplish­ed” moment to celebrate.

Biden pushed back against the notion the U.S. mission has failed but also noted it remains unlikely the government would control all of Afghanista­n after the U.S. leaves. He urged the Afghan government and Taliban, which he said remains as formidable as it did before the start of the war, to come to a peace agreement.

“We did not go to Afghanista­n to nation build,” Biden said in a speech from the White House’s East Room. “Afghan leaders have to come together and drive toward a future.”

The administra­tion in recent days has sought to frame ending the conflict as a decision Biden made after concluding it’s an “unwinnable war” and one that “does not have a military solution.” On Thursday he amplified the justificat­ion of his decision even as the Taliban make rapid advances in significan­t swaths of the country.

“How many more, how many more thousands of American daughters and sons are you willing to risk?” Biden said to those calling for the U.S. to extend the military operation. He added, “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanista­n, with no reasonable expectatio­n of achieving a different outcome.”

The new withdrawal date comes after former President Donald Trump’s administra­tion negotiated a deal with the Taliban to end the U.S. military mission by May 1. Biden after taking office announced U.S. troops would be out by by the 20th anniversar­y of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack, which al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden plotted from Afghanista­n, where he had been given refuge by the Taliban.

With U.S. and NATO ally forces rapidly drawing down in the past week, there was growing speculatio­n that U.S. combat operations have already effectivel­y ended. But by setting Aug. 31 as the drawdown date, the administra­tion nodded to the reality that the long war is in its final phase, while providing itself some cushion to deal with outstandin­g matters.

The administra­tion has yet to complete talks with Turkey on an arrangemen­t for maintainin­g security at the Kabul airport and is still ironing out details for the potential evacuation of thousands of Afghans who assisted the U.S. military operation.

Biden said that prolonging U.S. military involvemen­t, considerin­g Trump had already agreed to withdraw U.S. troops, would have led to an escalation of attacks on American troops and NATO allies.

“The Taliban would have again begun to target our forces,” Biden said. “The status quo was not an option. Staying meant U.S. troops taking casualties. American men and women. Back in the middle of a civil war. And we would run the risk of having to send more troops back in Afghanista­n to defend our remaining troops.”

The president added that there is no “mission accomplish­ed” moment as the U.S. war comes to an end.

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