Skip to content

Illustration by Security Management

United States to Withdraw Troops from Afghanistan by 11 September

U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to announce his plan to withdraw all remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan by 11 September—marking an end to America’s longest war. Forces have been deployed to Afghanistan for nearly 20 years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. There are approximately 2,500 U.S. troops in the country—part of a larger 9,600-troop NATO mission.

The move comes as part of an ongoing push for peace talks and settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, although the September date is a change from the February 2020 agreement under the Trump administration that set the deadline for troop withdrawal as 1 May 2021, according to The Washington Post. Biden acknowledged in January that it would be challenging to remove troops so quickly after the transition in administration. The withdrawal will begin before 1 May and will end by or before 11 September.

The United Kingdom is also expected to withdraw 750 British soldiers stationed in Afghanistan by September, and NATO is likely to pull out its forces collectively, the BBC reports. NATO’s foreign and defense ministers are meeting to discuss a “safe, deliberate, and coordinated withdrawal of our forces from Afghanistan,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday. The NATO alliance mantra has always been “in together and out together,” so ministers from member countries are expected to confirm that troops will leave alongside or earlier than the Americans, The New York Times reports.

The deal signed last February said the United States and NATO allies would withdraw all troops within 14 months, provided the Taliban upheld its promises—including not allowing al Qaeda or other militants to operate in Taliban-controlled areas and proceed with peace talks. Direct talks started in September 2020, but now the Taliban has refused to resume peace talks until all foreign forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan, and the group has threatened to resume hostilities against any foreign troops still in the country on 1 May. In response, the Taliban has been warned that if it attacks troops during the withdrawal phase, it “will be met with a forceful response,” a senior U.S. official told reporters.

After a review of “genuine, realistic options to advance and protect U.S. interests,” the official said, Biden decided to proceed with a longer pull-out process in Afghanistan. “We have, as I said before, long known that there is no military solution to the problems plaguing Afghanistan, and we will focus our efforts on supporting the ongoing peace process,” the official said. “And that means putting the full weight of our government behind diplomatic efforts to reach a peace agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government. But what we will not do is use our troops as bargaining chips in that process.”

While violence against foreign troops has fallen as a result of the peace talks, conflict between the Taliban and the Afghan government continues, the Associated Press reports. According to a UN estimate, more than 3,000 civilians were killed in 2020, and violence has ramped up across Afghanistan in recent months. The Taliban is also carrying out targeted killings—at least 11 journalists and media workers have been killed in Afghanistan in the last year—and a resurgence of Taliban rule threatens the newly instated rights for women to seek education and employment in Afghanistan.

The United States will work with other countries using “diplomatic, economic, and humanitarian tools to protect the gains made by Afghan women,” the U.S. official said.

Regarding the threat of terrorism fomenting in Afghanistan, the official added: “We are not taking our eye off of the terrorist threat or signs of al Qaeda’s resurgence.  They do not currently present an external—or do not currently possess an external plotting capability that can threaten the homeland. But this is something that we have to focus on: its potential for reemerging in the years ahead. And we have to continue relentlessly to work to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a base from which terrorists can attack the United States. 

“So, in coordination with our Afghan partners and with other allies, we will reposition our counterterrorism capabilities, retaining significant assets in the region to counter the potential reemergence of a terrorist threat to the homeland from Afghanistan, and to hold the Taliban to its commitment to ensure al Qaeda does not once again threaten the United States or our interests or our allies. And we will refine our counterterrorism strategy to monitor and disrupt terrorist threats to the homeland and to our interests in a way that contends with the dispersed threats big picture we face today.”