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Biden announces plan to end America’s longest war

How Taliban may run Afghanistan after US troops withdraw
03:50

What you need to know

  • President Biden formally announced his decision to begin withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan on May 1, with a full withdrawal by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
  • Biden’s plan to end America’s longest war has prompted a split on Capitol Hill among both Republicans and Democrats.
  • The US and its allies invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 in retaliation for Al-Qaeda’s attack on the US, which was planned and executed in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. About 2,500 US troops remain in the country.

Our live coverage has ended. Learn more about Biden’s announcement here.

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Key things to know about Biden's Afghanistan announcement today — and what comes next 

President Biden’s promise to remove US troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 is his effort — each of the last four presidents has had one — to end America’s longest war.

The deadline for Biden’s withdrawal is significant — Sept. 11, 2021, is 20 years after the 9/11 terror attacks in New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania that led the US to target Afghanistan in the first place.

Those two decades have seen more than 2,300 US military lives lost, tens of thousands of US wounded, countless Afghan casualties and more than $2 trillion in taxpayer money spent.

Here are some answers to key questions regarding Biden’s announcement today:

  • What exactly is the US trying to accomplish in Afghanistan? The stated goal of the US involvement is not to liberate women repressed by the Taliban or to end that regime. In fact, the US has been involved in peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government for years. The simplest explanation of the US goal in Afghanistan is to keep it from again becoming a hotbed for terror groups like al Qaeda. When the US left Iraq, for instance, the power vaccum helped lead to the rise of ISIS there.
  • Why is Biden bent on removing the remaining 2,500 US troops? Biden said in his speech Wednesday that no amount of US forces on the ground can deter the Taliban or end the war. “It was not true when we had 98,000 US troops on the ground, and it won’t be true keeping [the current] 2,500 troops on the ground… We don’t think they are a game changer,” a source told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. The US will still use diplomatic and monetary leverage. What’s not at all clear is if those tools will get results where two decades of American military might have not.
  • Will any US troops be left in Afghanistan after September 11, 2021? Very few US forces will be there and they will be focused on helping US diplomats. An exact number is unclear. It’s not exactly clear, for instance, what role, if any, US special operations troops would play in Afghanistan.
  • What if conditions in Afghanistan worsen between now and September? Biden’s decision is said to be final and not “conditions-based.” This is happening.
  • What is the reaction to Biden’s decision? There is bipartisan opposition. “Apparently, we’re to help our adversaries ring in the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by gift-wrapping the country and handing it right back to them,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor Wednesday. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat of New Hampshire, tweeted when word of Biden’s plans began circulating: “It undermines our commitment to the Afghan people, particularly Afghan women.”
  • What will happen after the US and NATO forces leave? While the US will continue to try to broker a peace agreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, September may now be the de facto deadline for those talks. Biden is overruling military commanders who worry the Taliban will overrun the Afghan government once American firepower is gone. A US intelligence community assessment released Tuesday shares those concerns. “The Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield, and the Afghan Government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support,” according to the official assessment of worldwide threats.
  • What’s it like in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan today? CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh visited Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan that were the scene of US and British casualties a decade ago. He and his CNN team found women unable to go outside. Paton Walsh writes: While Kabul and the center of most main cities remain mostly under government control, vast swathes of rural Afghanistan are ruled by the fractious and varied units of the Taliban. For more than five years now in Musa Qala, they have imposed their rules despite still being in regular conflict with Afghan security forces further south in Helmand province.”At the end of the day the Taliban have the power,” said one resident. “It is not really possible to go against their will.”

How the war in Afghanistan compares in length to other conflicts the US has been involved in

President Biden today formally announced the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan before Sept. 11, 20 years after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon led the US into its longest war

Here’s a look at how this war compares in length to other conflicts the US has been involved in:

CNN reporter in Kabul reacts to Biden’s announcement on US troop withdrawal

CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh has been on the ground in Kabul, Afghanistan, reporting on events in the country ahead of President Biden’s announcement to formally withdraw US troops by Sept. 11.

 Here are his three takeaways from Biden’s announcement today:

Biden’s decision is the product of decades of wrestling with the intractable problem of building Afghanistan back up. He personally feels the sacrifice of the 1% of Americans he reminded us serve in the military – of lives and years lost here in this war. It was a courageous decision, and a decision with no perfect outcome, but one he had accepted and had the responsibility to make. It likely won’t all go well, but it is the one thing the US has not tried here, and the reasons for staying – well, he admitted they were not good enough. Biden harked back to how his predecessor started this, it was not how he would have done it, but he wanted to honor it. Former President Trump set May 1 as the deadline for leaving completely. Biden will start then. That may not be enough for the Taliban who demanded the US leave in 16 days. But there’s been a lot of rhetoric, and still talking. In the end, Biden reminded us this situation was not of his making, not his choice throughout, but his to muster the courage to fix. There is scope to hit the Taliban militarily in the months ahead. He was clear that attacks on the US and their partners as they withdraw will get a tough response. That might mean they can use airstrikes against the Taliban if they attack Afghan forces. He also said the US diplomatic mission may need “security” – that could be interpreted in broad ways. He is definitely taking out the troops, but also leaving room to influence the battlefield in the fraught months ahead.

NATO chief hails "new chapter" with Afghanistan

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, April 14.

The withdrawal of troops is the beginning of “a new chapter” and “a new kind of partnership” with Afghanistan, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a news conference on Wednesday. 

“The only way to support the country isn’t by having thousands of combat troops deployed in the country. (…) “We have diplomatic tools, we have economic tools, we have development, we have humanitarian aid. All of that is at the disposal of NATO Allies and NATO,” Stoltenberg said.

“All Allies are aware that this is not an easy decision. And this is a decision that entails risks. And also a decision that really requires that we continue to stay focused on Afghanistan. Partly to make sure that the withdrawal takes place in a safe and secure and orderly way,” he added.

Echoing an earlier statement issued by the Alliance, Stoltenberg said: “We’re sending a very clear message to the Taliban: if they start to attack us we will retaliate and answer in a very forceful way.”

“This is not the end. This is the beginning of a new way of working with Afghanistan. But I think that after 20 years, Allies saw that the time had come to end our military presence there,” he added.

Defense secretary: US will look continue to fund "key capabilities" in Afghanistan

United State Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrives at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, April 14.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the US will look to “continue funding key capabilities” including the Afghan Air Force and Special Mission Wing, and he said the US will continue paying salaries for Afghan Security Forces.

“We will look to continue funding key capabilities such as the Afghan air force and special mission wing, and we will seek to continue paying salaries for Afghan Security Forces

Austin said he fully supports President Biden’s decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 during remarks at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on Wednesday.

“I want to thank our NATO allies and partners for the time they have afforded us to complete our review and explain our President’s decision to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021,” Austin said. “I fully support his decision.”

When asked about disagreements from the military over a withdrawal, Austin said the process was inclusive and concerns were taken into consideration.

“This was an inclusive process, and their voices were heard and their concerns taken into consideration as the President made his decision. But now that the decision has been made, I call upon them to lead their forces — to lead their forces — through this effort, through this transition, and knowing them all very well as I do, I have every confidence that they will in fact lead their force through this effort,” Austin said.

“We also will work closely with them and with our allies to maintain counterterrorism capabilities in the region sufficient to ensuring Afghanistan cannot become a safe haven for terrorists who threaten our security,” Austin said.

Austin said the US has “accomplished the mission” in Afghanistan, making “economic, civil, and political progress” in the country over the years.

 “Our troops have accomplished the mission they were sent to Afghanistan to accomplish,” Austin said. “Their service and their sacrifices, alongside those of our Resolute Support and Afghan partners, made possible the greatly diminished threat to all of our homelands from Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.”

 Austin acknowledged the ongoing violence from the Taliban. 

“There is still too much violence, to be sure. And we know the Taliban still seek to reverse some of this progress,” Austin said. “That is why we support wholeheartedly the diplomatic efforts ongoing to achieve a negotiated and political settlement that the Afghan people themselves endorse.”

Biden visits graves of troops killed in Afghanistan at Arlington Cemetery

President Biden visited the graves of US troops killed in Afghanistan at Arlington Cemetery, following his announcement of withdrawing troops from the country.

“I’m always amazed at, generation after generation, women and men who are prepared to give their lives for their country. They don’t give it for their country, per se, they give it for their mothers, their brothers, sisters, their fathers, their uncles, their aunts. It means I have trouble these days ever showing up at a cemetery and not thinking about my son Beau, who proudly insisted on putting on that uniform and going with his unit to Iraq and giving up his spot as attorney general in the state of Delaware, because he thought it was the right thing to do,” Biden said after paying his respects.

Asked if the decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan was a hard decision, Biden said “no it wasn’t” and to him, it was “absolutely clear.”

He said the US went to Afghanistan for two reasons, to get rid of Osama bin Laden and end the safe haven for terrorists, and the US has done that.

Watch the moment:

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Here's a look at how US troop levels in Afghanistan have changed since 2001

President Biden formally announced his decision today to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan before Sept. 11.

When Biden took office in January, about 2,500 troops were stationed in Afghanistan, the lowest level since the beginning of the war nearly 20 years ago in 2001.

The US troop presence was at its highest throughout 2010 and 2011 after former President Barack Obama sent an additional 47,000 troops as part of his surge strategy in 2009.

Here’s a look at the number of US troops in Afghanistan by president:

NATO confirms withdrawal of troops starting May 1

NATO says it plans to start withdrawing troops May 1, in line with what President Biden announced Wednesday afternoon.

“…recognising that there is no military solution to the challenges Afghanistan faces, Allies have determined that we will start the withdrawal of Resolute Support Mission forces by May 1. This drawdown will be orderly, coordinated, and deliberate. We plan to have the withdrawal of all US and Resolute Support Mission forces completed within a few months. Any Taliban attacks on Allied troops during this withdrawal will be met with a forceful response,” the North Atlantic Council Ministerial Statement on Afghanistan said in a statement Wednesday.

Pelosi on Biden's Afghanistan decision: "I support this transition"

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a statement supporting President Biden’s announcement of his timeline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan:

““The Biden Administration’s announced timeline for the safe, strategic and orderly departure of American troops from Afghanistan is an important and welcomed development. As Speaker, I support this transition and President Biden’s leadership to protect the safety of our troops and the security of the American people, which must be our priority,” Pelosi said in the statement.

The House Speaker said Congress “remains committed to advancing peace and security in Afghanistan and the region, including an inclusive Afghan government that respects the human rights of all its people.”

Biden remembers son Beau and the generational impact of the Afghan conflict

During his remarks about withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, President Biden remembered his late son Beau Biden – who served in Iraq – calling Beau his “North Star.”

“I’m the first president in 40 years who knows what it means to have a child serving in a war zone. Throughout this process, my North Star has been remembering what it was like when my late son Beau was deployed to Iraq. How proud he was to serve his country, how insistent he was to deploy with his unit and the impact it had on him and all of us as home,” Biden said.

He noted the multigenerational impact the war has had on service members, highlighting the fact that there are members serving now whose parents have served in the same war, and said “it’s time to end the forever war.’

“We have service members who are not yet born when our nation was attacked on 9/11. War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational undertaking. We were attacked. We went to war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives. Bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda is degraded in Afghanistan. It’s time to end the forever war,” the President said.

Obama praises Biden's "bold leadership" on Afghanistan withdrawal

Former President Barack Obama praised President Biden’s “bold leadership” for his decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, calling it “the right decision.”

“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. I support President Biden’s bold leadership in building our nation at home and restoring our standing around the world,” Obama continued in the statement.

Echoing similar themes from Biden’s remarks, the former President said the US should be focusing on other global challenges.

“Since we began to draw down U.S. forces in 2011, the United States made clear to the Afghan government that we would be gradually transitioning responsibility for security while creating time and space for efforts to improve governance and pursue diplomacy. Nearly a decade later, it is time to turn the page to the next chapter of our relationship with Afghanistan. There will be very difficult challenges and further hardship ahead in Afghanistan, and the U.S. must remain engaged diplomatically and through our development efforts to support the Afghan people, particularly those who have taken extraordinary risks on behalf of human rights,” Obama wrote.

Some more context: As CNN has previously reported, Biden argued ardently to Obama that troops should be drawn down in 2009. He even wrote a long memo and faxed it to Obama from his Thanksgiving vacation on Nantucket. His views went unheeded and that brush-off stuck with Biden over the years. Now, Obama is praising Biden’s “bold leadership” in finally pulling troops out.

Biden: "We will not take our eye off the terrorist threat"

While announcing his decision to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, President Biden made clear that the US would “not take our eye off the terrorist threat,” in Afghanistan or elsewhere across the globe.

“US troops, as well as forces deployed by our NATO allies and operational partners, will be out of Afghanistan before we mark the 20th anniversary of that heinous attack on Sept. 11. but we will not take our eye off the terrorist threat,” Biden said.

“We will reorganize our counter-terrorism capabilities and the substantial assets in the region to prevent the reemergence of terrorist threat to our homeland over the horizon. We’ll hold the Taliban accountable for its commitment not to allow any terrorist to threaten the United States or its allies on Afghan soil. The Afghan government has made that commitment to us as well, and we’ll focus our full attention on the threat we face today.”

“In my direction, my team is refining our national strategy to monitor and disrupt significant threats anywhere where they may arise, whether in Africa, Europe, Middle East and elsewhere,” he added.