Los Angeles Times


After two decades, the Sept. 11 attacks no longer justify U.S. military presence in Afghanista­n, he says.

- By David S. Cloud and David Lauter

WASHINGTON — President Biden on Wednesday formally announced a Sept. 11 deadline to end military involvemen­t in Afghanista­n, arguing that the 2001 terrorist attacks that led to the U.S.-led invasion can no longer justify prolonging an unwinnable war.

“We went to Afghanista­n because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago,” Biden said, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon, which Al Qaeda planned from Afghanista­n. “That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021.

“War in Afghanista­n was never meant to be a multigener­ational undertakin­g,” Biden said. “It’s time to end the forever war.”

Biden’s plan, which U.S. officials had disclosed Tuesday, means the United States will miss the May 1 deadline the Trump administra­tion set last year in a deal with the Taliban. Instead, the U.S. drawdown will start on that date, Biden said.

Speaking from the White House Treaty Room, where then-President George W. Bush announced the first airstrikes against Afghanista­n in 2001, Biden cast the decision as an overdue admission that the United States has fallen short of its maximum goals. Despite thousands of casualties, and nearly a trillion dollars spent, a stable Afghanista­n has not been achieved.

With Osama bin Laden’s death a decade ago, the U.S. accomplish­ed its original objective of punishing those who planned the Sept. 11 attacks, Biden said. Since then, he added, the U.S. reasons for staying have become “increasing­ly unclear.”

The withdrawal was also necessary to reorient national security priorities toward more urgent threats, he said, noting that Afghanista­n is no longer the center of activity for anti-U.S. militants, who can be found scattered across Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Senior Republican­s on

Tuesday announced opposition to Biden’s September deadline, despite polls showing that ending the war is popular with the American public.

“Any withdrawal of forces based on a political timeline ... that is not based on conditions on the ground puts Americans’ security at risk,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a member of the House Republican leadership, told reporters at a news conference. The congresswo­man’s father, Dick Cheney, was vice president when a U.S.-led coalition invaded Afghanista­n.

Biden sought to rebut that criticism, saying that making the withdrawal subject to conditions on the ground was a recipe for an endless stay.

“We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanista­n, hoping to create the ideal conditions for the withdrawal and expecting a different result,” Biden said.

“No one wants to say that we should be in Afghanista­n forever, but they insist now is not the right moment to leave,” he added. “When will it be the right moment to leave? One more year? Two more years? Ten more years?

“I am now the fourth United States president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanista­n. Two Republican­s. Two Democrats,” Biden said. “I will not pass this responsibi­lity onto a fifth.”

After the speech, Biden visited Arlington National Cemetery to pay his respects to Americans killed in the Afghanista­n conflict. He stood among the tombstones and said: “Look at them all.”

Noting that he was the first president in 40 years who has had a child — son Beau — in armed conflict, Biden pulled a card from his jacket pocket with the official number of U.S. casualties as of Wednesday morning: 2,488 killed, 20,722 wounded. Many tens of thousands of Afghan troops and civilians have died too.

Biden said that he had spoken with Bush about the decision to withdraw and that although they differed on many issues, they were united in honoring the troops. “We as a nation are forever indebted to them,” he said. Biden also called former President Obama, the White House said. He notably did not call former President Trump.

At least 2,500 U.S. troops remain in Afghanista­n, although special operations troops and other units that rotate into the country can take that number to 3,500 or higher. Almost all of the additional 8,500 troops from NATO allies and other countries now in Afghanista­n are also expected to withdraw.

At North Atlantic Treaty Organizati­on headquarte­rs in Brussels on Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III briefed allies about the U.S. plans. NATO members endorsed a similar pullout timetable for their troops in Afghanista­n.

“Any Taliban attacks on Allied troops during this withdrawal will be met with a forceful response,” NATO leaders said in a statement announcing the plan.

“The threat from Al Qaeda in Afghanista­n is significan­tly degraded. Osama bin Laden has been brought to justice. We have achieved our original objective,” Blinken said. “And we don’t believe that maintainin­g an indefinite troop presence in Afghanista­n is in our interests.”

He warned Taliban leaders against intensifyi­ng attacks on departing foreign troops or on Afghan government forces. Doing so would cost them foreign aid vital to rebuilding Afghanista­n and any prospect of having sanctions against their leaders lifted, he said.

“The Taliban has a choice to make. They say they want internatio­nal recognitio­n, that they want internatio­nal support. And those things will, I think, be significan­tly affected by the path the Taliban takes going forward,” he said.

Austin provided the first hint that the Pentagon will seek to continue paying salaries of the 300,000-member Afghan military. But he suggested the details of the continued aid were up in the air, and he did not say if thousands of U.S. contractor­s assisting Afghan forces would stay on.

Afghanista­n’s army and police have been heavily dependent on U.S. military assistance, while its government is largely funded by foreign aid — help that could begin to dry up even as the fighting between the central government and Taliban militants intensifie­s.

“We will look to continue funding capabiliti­es such as the Afghan air force, and special mission wing,” which provides casualty evacuation, reconnaiss­ance and is trained to f ly helicopter­s and light aircraft at night, Austin said.

The fate of Afghans who worked with U.S. forces — as interprete­rs and guides as well as in other roles — remains a major considerat­ion for the administra­tion, said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), chairman of the House Intelligen­ce Committee, who discussed the matter with a member of Biden’s National Security Council on Wednesday.

“I think it’s very much a priority of the administra­tion” to ensure those who helped U.S. forces are not put in jeopardy, Schiff said. “They recognize that we have not always lived up to our responsibi­lities” in past conflicts, including in Vietnam, in which “people who risked their lives working with U.S. forces have been left behind,” he said.

The administra­tion continues to hope that negotiatio­ns may achieve a political settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government that could provide protection, he said. If not, the administra­tion needs to be prepared to act to provide visas to allow people who aided the U.S. to resettle here, Schiff said.

Ahead of Biden’s speech, CIA Director William Burns told lawmakers that the withdrawal of U.S. troops will curtail the ability of the U.S. to gather intelligen­ce on threats and to deter them.

The “government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish — that’s simply a fact,” Burns told the Senate Intelligen­ce Committee. “All of that means there is a significan­t risk once the U.S. military and coalition military withdraw.”

Burns said that Al Qaeda and Islamic State in Afghanista­n “remain intent on recovering the ability to attack U.S. targets, whether it’s in the region, the West or, ultimately, the homeland.”

However, he added, “after years of sustained counterter­rorism pressure, the reality is that neither of them have that capacity today, and there are terrorist groups … that represent much more serious threats today.”

The CIA and other agencies will “retain a suite of capabiliti­es” that will help the U.S. “anticipate and contest” any rebuilding effort by terrorists in Afghanista­n, he said.

Schiff said he agreed that the withdrawal will complicate U.S. intelligen­ce efforts. “We’ll need to find workaround­s,” he said. But, he added, “those risks have to be weighed against the continued risks to our troops” of staying in Afghanista­n.

Like many members of Congress, he said, “I’ve been to many funerals for my constituen­ts who served” — several hundred California­ns are among the U.S. service members killed in the conflict. “I think we all want to honor their service and make sure that the threat they fought and died to protect the country against does not reoccur.”

A couple of hours before his speech at the White House, Biden spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Biden “emphasized that the United States will continue to support the Afghan people, including through continued developmen­t, humanitari­an, and security assistance,” the White House said in a statement.

The two agreed that “every effort should be made to achieve a political settlement so that the Afghan people can live in peace,” the statement added.

But a Taliban official reiterated Wednesday that U.S. and other foreign forces should leave Afghanista­n by the May 1 deadline the Trump administra­tion signed on to during negotiatio­ns in Doha, Qatar.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanista­n seeks the withdrawal of all foreign forces from our homeland on the date specified in the Doha Agreement,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a tweet. “If the agreement is adhered to, a pathway to addressing the remaining issues will also be found.”

 ?? Brendan Smialowski AFP/Getty Images ?? PRESIDENT BIDEN visits Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday to pay his respects to Americans killed in the Afghanista­n war.
Brendan Smialowski AFP/Getty Images PRESIDENT BIDEN visits Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday to pay his respects to Americans killed in the Afghanista­n war.
 ?? David Goldman Associated Press ?? ARMY 2ND LT. Andrew Ferrara of Torrance turns away from a landing Blackhawk helicopter during a 2011 mission in Kunar province in Afghanista­n.
David Goldman Associated Press ARMY 2ND LT. Andrew Ferrara of Torrance turns away from a landing Blackhawk helicopter during a 2011 mission in Kunar province in Afghanista­n.

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