President Biden Announces Removal of US Troops from Afghanistan

Bodie Morein, Contributing Writer

In mid-April, President Joe Biden ordered for the full withdrawal of US troops stationed in Afghanistan to start no later than May 1st and to end by September 11th, 2021. US troops have been in Afghanistan for nearly two decades, first invading after the 9/11 attacks in New York City. President Biden, in a recent speech, stated that the US “went to Afghanistan in 2001 to root out al-Qaeda, to prevent future terrorist attacks against the United States planned from Afghanistan.” However, almost 20 years later, the US is still stationed in Afghanistan with no resolution in sight. With the Taliban, an “ultraconservative political and religious faction” still holding a fair amount of power in Afghanistan, many are worried that it could take over large parts of the country and enforce its harsh religious rules. The Taliban has also historically protected al-Qaeda, the terrorist group that the 9/11 operatives belonged to. The head of the UN panel tasked with tracking terrorist groups believes that “The top leadership of Al Qaeda is still under Taliban protection.” These are all reasons that withdrawal is, and has been for years, a controversial decision, with Democrats and Republicans split on the issue.

President Biden made a speech on April 14th detailing why he’s withdrawing US troops. He explained that, “[w]e 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.” A full withdrawal from Afghanistan has been avoided by many presidents for years, mostly because of how complicated and controversial of a decision it is. The disagreement stems from the political climate in Afghanistan, and the possibility of the Taliban regaining power and imposing strict rules over Afghans, as well as killing those who worked with the US. However, this isn’t guaranteed; former President Donald Trump had also planned a full withdrawal after negotiating terms with the Taliban. The original withdrawal deadline was set for May 1st, 2021, and when he came into office, Biden acknowledged this decision. In his speech, he admitted that it was “not what [he] would have negotiated [him]self,” but that the US had made an “agreement” with the Taliban. He delayed the deadline until September 2021, but overall honored the agreement made by his predecessor.

A full withdrawal from Afghanistan has been avoided by many presidents for years, mostly because of how complicated and controversial of a decision it is.

While Republicans are largely against the withdrawal, Democrats in Congress are split on whether or not it’s a good idea. Democratic Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have praised Biden’s decision, whereas Democratic Sen. Jeane Shaheen criticized it, tweeting that she is, “very disappointed in [the president]’s decision … to walk away from Afghanistan” and that “The US has sacrificed too much to bring stability to Afghanistan to leave [without] verifiable assurances of a secure future.”

The war in Afghanistan started after 9/11, when al-Qaeda operatives hijacked four planes, flying two of them into New York City’s Twin Towers, one into the Pentagon, and the last crashing in a field in Pennsylvania. In all, 2,977 people died, including the 19 terrorists. Following this, the US invaded Afghanistan in an effort to hunt down Osama bin-Laden and disband al-Qaeda and the Taliban to neutralize the threat they posed to the US. But even after bin-Laden was killed in 2011 in Pakistan, the US didn’t withdraw from Afghanistan. In 2014, President Obama attempted to almost completely withdraw US troops, but many troops were reinstated during Trump’s presidency after rising tensions with the Taliban, who had gained power again. Today, the war has lasted almost 20 years, but Americans are still split on whether it should continue or not. Some believe that the war against terrorism no longer rests in Afghanistan, and that it doesn’t make sense to stay there without a real purpose. Others think that without the US there, the Taliban would completely take over, sending the country into chaos and opening up opportunities for terrorists to gather there again. Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has said that she worries about “what happens to the people, particularly the women in Afghanistan, if the Taliban come back into power, if the government collapses.” Many Afghans are terrified, and thousands who helped the US in the past are trying desperately to get out of Afghanistan before the US troops are gone. Some Afghans are hopeful that the Afghan government and the Taliban can reach a peaceful agreement that doesn’t result in another civil war. The Taliban has threatened attacks against “foreign forces,” meaning the US and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), if they haven’t departed by the agreed deadline of September 11th, but has also conducted talks with the Afghan government.

What happens next is unclear. We don’t know if the decision to withdraw will be a terrible mistake, or a great success that goes down in history. In his speech announcing the decision, President Biden promised that, “We’ll not take our eye off the terrorist threat. We’ll reorganize our counterterrorism capabilities … [and] prevent reemergence of terrorists …. We’ll hold the Taliban accountable for its commitment not to allow any terrorists to threaten the United States or its allies from Afghan soil.” He also stated that, “[W]hile we will not stay involved in Afghanistan militarily, our diplomatic and humanitarian work will continue. We’ll continue to support the government of Afghanistan.”