President Joe Biden announced that the 20-year U.S. military mission in Afghanistan will end by August 31 as he called on the country’s leaders to “come together” to prevent civil war. He said, “We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build.” He also added, “It’s up to the Afghans to make decisions about the future of their country.”
He said, “How many more, how many more thousands of America’s daughters and sons are you willing to risk? How long would you have them stay?”
The process of withdrawal began in April. The Pentagon said on Tuesday that it has complete more than 90% of the process.
The removal of approximately 3,000 U.S. service members coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which spurred America’s entry into lengthy wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Biden told reporters he is confident the Afghan military can hold the country from the advancing Taliban, citing the 300,000 Afghan troops the U.S. has trained and equipped in the past two decades.
“They clearly have the capacity to keep the government in place, the question is will they come together, and will they do it,” he said, referring to Afghan leaders.
At the Pentagon, spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. was closely monitoring the unfolding security situation in Afghanistan. He said the Taliban had seized dozens of district centers and threaten provincial centers, too.
“We are mindful of the security situation and we are mindful of the Taliban’s advance and that’s why it is so important for us to press for a negotiated political settlement to this war,” Kirby said.
“The Taliban is at its strongest, militarily, since 2001,” Biden said. While Biden pushed back on the idea that a Taliban takeover of the country was inevitable, he acknowledged that Afghanistan is not likely to be governed by one central government in the near future.
It was last week following Biden’s order to withdraw U.S. forces from the country that the military departed the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. In 2012, at its peak, Bagram saw more than 100,000 U.S. troops pass through. It was the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s district administrator for Bagram told the press that the U.S. departure happened overnight and without coordination with local officials. As a result, dozens of looters stormed through the unprotected gates.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid described the U.S. departure from Bagram as “a positive step” and told NBC News that “for now”.
American forces toppled the Taliban in 2001 after the group harbored Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders who carried out the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Two years later, U.S. troops invaded Iraq, a move aimed at removing then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Twenty years later, America’s longest war has cost the lives of around 2,300 U.S. troops and left thousands more wounded. More than 100,000 Afghans are estimated to have been killed or wounded since the conflict began.