President Joe Biden said Thursday that he will achieve his goal of ending America’s 20-year military campaign in Afghanistan, the country’s longest-running war, by Aug. 31.
Once U.S. forces and equipment are fully withdrawn, Biden will have dramatically shifted U.S. foreign policy ― thrilling skeptics of the war, from nearly all Democrats to a vocal group of conservatives, and making good on a promise the two presidents before him ultimately abandoned.
“We did not go there to nation-build,” Biden said. “It is the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people to determine how they want to be governed.”
But the costs of the withdrawal are also becoming increasingly clear.
The Taliban, the militant group that the U.S. pushed out of power in Kabul in 2001 for its role in the 9/11 terror attacks, is quickly gaining ground against Afghanistan’s pro-U.S. government. The insurgents ― whose hardline interpretation of Islam severely curtails human rights, particularly for women ― have besieged major provincial capitals and are showing little interest in negotiations to share power with local allies of the U.S.
Afghan officials are desperate for the Biden administration to confirm that it will not abandon them and to signal an ongoing interest in their country’s stability, and humanitarian groups are warning that a further uptick in fighting could lead to major bloodshed. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers such as Sens. Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) are arguing that pulling out will enable terror groups to gain safe haven in Afghanistan and again use it as a staging ground for attacks against Americans.
Biden attempted to allay those concerns in his remarks, saying the change in course was long overdue and that moving fast to draw down the U.S. presence was the safest way to do so.
On Sept. 20, 2001, then-President George W. Bush said during a joint session of Congress: “Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.”
Justice, if defined by the downfall of the Taliban, was accomplished within months. To ensure that the Taliban did not regain power, the Bush administration and U.S. allies set about remaking Afghanistan as a pro-Western democracy, a project that lasted nearly five full presidential terms.
Nineteen years and 10 months later, one floor down and a dozen paces north from the room where Bush announced that the assault on Afghanistan had begun, Biden spelled out details for finally ending that military presence.
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