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U.S. troops patrol near Forward Operating Base Baylough in Zabul province, Afghanistan. (Photo: U.S. Army/Public Domain)

U.S. troops patrol near Forward Operating Base Baylough in Zabul province, Afghanistan on June 16, 2010. (Photo: U.S. Army/Public Domain)

After Nearly 20-Year Assault on Afghanistan, Biden Says 'It Is Time to End America's Longest War'

White House announcement for complete withdrawal comes nearly two decades after the U.S. president, then a senator, backed the 2001 invasion.

Brett Wilkins

After nearly 20 years, tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and more than 2,300 U.S. service members killed, and Taliban forces who have never surrendered, President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced he plans to withdraw all regular American combat troops from Afghanistan by this year's anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. 

"We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021."
—President Joe Biden

"I am now the fourth United States president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats," Biden said in an address from the White House Treaty Room. "I will not pass this responsibility onto a fifth."

Asserting that the U.S. "cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, and expecting a different result," Biden declared that "it is time to end America's longest war. It is time for American troops to come home."

Biden dismissed the argument by interventionist Democrats and Republicans that the war should be continued as part of the ongoing so-called War on Terror. 

"We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago," he said. "That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021."

The president said he consulted with former President George W. Bush—who ordered the 2001 invasion after receiving authorization from nearly every member of Congress at the time, including Biden himself who was then serving in the U.S. Senate. Only Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) in the House voted against that authorization.

Before making his announcement, Biden also consulted this week with former President Barack Obama, who ordered the 2009 Afghan "surge" which dramatically escalated the war.

On Wednesday, Obama said that Biden "made the right decision" in committing to the U.S. pullout. 

"After nearly two decades of putting our troops in harm's way, it is time to recognize that we have accomplished all that we can militarily, and that it's time to bring our remaining troops home," Obama—under whom U.S. troop strength peaked at nearly 100,000 in 2011—said in a statement. "I support President Biden's bold leadership in building our nation at home and restoring our standing around the world."

On Tuesday, Common Dreams reported that progressive lawmakers and peace activists overwhelmingly welcomed news of the U.S. withdrawal, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—who also voted to authorize the war—warning against waging future interventions and Lee optimistically calling Biden's move "a critical step toward ending forever wars and ushering in global peace."

Others, including Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the women-led peace group CodePink, stressed that a true end to the war means an end to U.S. air and drone strikes, covert operations, and other forms of aggression. 

Black Alliance for Peace published a statement Tuesday saying it "wonders if U.S. private contractors and NATO coalition forces from other countries—both of which outnumber U.S. military personnel—will remain in Afghanistan."

BAP added:

What role would the United States play once troops are removed? We also ask where else U.S. troops will be sent as the cold war on China is ramped up, Russia continues to be agitated, and Africa remains a hotbed for U.S. military activity. We question if devastating sanctions would be slapped on the people of Afghanistan after a U.S. pullout, as in the case of 1970s Vietnam and Iraq after the 1990s bombing campaign.

More progressive voices joined the chorus of commendation—and caution—following Biden's speech on Wednesday. 

"It's long past time to bring our troops home from Afghanistan," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) "We can't keep fighting forever wars, and I strongly support President Biden's decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan."

"Friendly reminder that withdrawing troops from Afghanistan only to refocus U.S. aggression on China and Russia is not our idea of peace," tweeted CodePink. 

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