UNITED STATES NEWS

‘Overdue’: Biden sets Aug. 31 for US exit from Afghanistan

Jul 8, 2021, 8:00 PM | Updated: Jul 9, 2021, 3:13 am
President Joe Biden speaks about the American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, in the East Room o...

President Joe Biden speaks about the American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Thursday the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan will end on Aug. 31, delivering an impassioned argument for exiting the nearly 20-year war without sacrificing more American lives even as he bluntly acknowledged there will be no “mission accomplished” moment to celebrate.

Biden pushed back against the notion the U.S. mission has failed but also noted that it remains unlikely the government would control all of Afghanistan after the U.S. leaves. He urged the Afghan government and Taliban, which he said remains as formidable as it did before the start of the war, to come to a peace agreement.

“We did not go to Afghanistan to nation build,” Biden said in a speech from the White House’s East Room. “Afghan leaders have to come together and drive toward a future.”

The administration in recent days has sought to frame ending the conflict as a decision that Biden made after concluding it’s an “unwinnable war” and one that “does not have a military solution.” On Thursday he amplified the justification of his decision even as the Taliban make rapid advances in significant swaths of the country.

“How many more, how many more thousands of American daughters and sons are you willing to risk?” Biden said to those calling for the U.S. to extend the military operation. He added, “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan, with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.”

The new withdrawal date comes after former President Donald Trump’s administration negotiated a deal with the Taliban to end the U.S. military mission by May 1. Biden after taking office announced U.S. troops would be out by by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack, which al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden plotted from Afghanistan, where he had been given refuge by the Taliban.

With U.S. and NATO ally forces rapidly drawing down in the past week, there was growing speculation that U.S. combat operations have already effectively ended. But by setting Aug. 31 as the drawdown date, the administration nodded to the reality that the long war is in its final phase, while providing itself some cushion to deal with outstanding matters.

The administration has yet to complete talks with Turkey on an arrangement for maintaining security at the Kabul airport and is still ironing out details for the potential evacuation of thousands of Afghans who assisted the U.S. military operation.

Biden said that prolonging U.S. military involvement, considering Trump had already agreed to withdraw U.S. troops, would have led to an escalation of attacks on American troops and NATO allies.

“The Taliban would have again begun to target our forces,” Biden said. “The status quo was not an option. Staying meant U.S. troops taking casualties. American men and women. Back in the middle of a civil war. And we would run the risk of having to send more troops back in Afghanistan to defend our remaining troops.”

The president added that there is no “mission accomplished” moment as the U.S. war comes to an end.

“The mission was accomplished in that we got Osama bin Laden and terrorism is not emanating from that part of the world,” he said. U.S. forces killed bin Laden in 2011.

U.S. forces this week vacated Bagram Airfield — the U.S. epicenter of the conflict to oust the Taliban and hunt down the al-Qaida perpetrators of the 2001 terrorist attacks that triggered the war.

Remaining U.S. troops are now concentrated in Kabul, the capital. The Pentagon said the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, is expected to end his tour of duty this month as final arrangements are made for a reduced U.S. military mission.

Biden, answering questions from reporters after his remarks on Thursday, said that Kabul falling to the Taliban would not be an acceptable outcome. The president also pushed back against the notion that such a scenario was certain.

“Do I trust the Taliban? No,” Biden said. “But I trust the capacity of the Afghan military, who is better trained, better equipped and more competent in terms of conducting war.”

To be certain, the West hopes Taliban gains will be confined mostly to rural areas, with the Afghan government and its allies retaining control of the cities where much of Afghanistan’s population resides. And while the Taliban remain a major power in Afghanistan, the government’s supporters hope that Afghans will work out the Taliban role in the post-U.S. Afghanistan power structure more through political than military means, partly through the inducements of international legitimacy, aid and other support.

Asked by a reporter whether rampant corruption within the Afghan government contributed to the failure of achieving the sort of stability that his predecessors and American military commanders envisioned, Biden didn’t exactly dismiss the notion. “The mission hasn’t failed — yet.”

Biden continues to face pressure from congressional lawmakers to offer further detail on how he intends to go about assisting thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. military as translators, drivers and in other jobs. Many are fearful they will be targets of the Taliban once the U.S. withdrawal is complete.

The White House says the administration has identified U.S. facilities outside of the continental United States, as well as third countries, where evacuated Afghans would potentially stay while their visa applications are processed. Biden added that 2,500 Afghans have been granted special immigrant visas since he took office in January.

Still, the president faced Republican criticism following his speech.

“The Taliban is gaining more ground by the day, and there are targets on the backs of our people and our partners,” said Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “But rather than taking the opportunity to reassure the American people there are sufficient plans in place to keep American diplomats and our Afghan partners safe, President Biden only offered more empty promises and no detailed plan of action.”

John Kirby, chief Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday that the U.S. military is considering several overseas bases around the world as possible temporary locations for those Afghans awaiting a visa. So far, he said, the numbers of those who have decided to leave Afghanistan are not so high that they can’t be handled with a range of installations.

“Our message to those women and men is clear,” Biden said. “There is a home for you in the United States if you so choose. We will stand with you, just as you stood with us.”

Biden noted that as a senator he was skeptical about how much the U.S. could accomplish in Afghanistan and had advocated for a more narrowly tailored mission. He was somewhat opaque in answering whether the cost of the war was worth it, but argued that the U.S. objectives were completed long ago.

“We went for two reasons: one, to bring Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, as I said at the time,” Biden said. “The second reason was to eliminate al-Qaida’s capacity to deal with more attacks on the United States from that territory. We accomplished both of those objectives. Period.

“That’s why I believe this is the right decision and quite frankly overdue.”

Associated Press writers Ellen Knickmeyer in Oklahoma City and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed reporting.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

United States News

Visitors watch the North Korea side from the Unification Observation Post in Paju, South Korea, nea...
Associated Press

South Korea urges North to restore hotlines for any talks

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea on Sunday urged North Korea to restore dormant communication hotlines, a day after the North repeated an offer to open conditional talks. The North might be seeking to extract concessions about two weeks after it raised tensions by carrying out its first missile tests in six months. North […]
4 hours ago
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 76th Session of the United Nations General Ass...
Associated Press

Turkey could buy more Russian missiles despite US warnings

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s president has said he would consider buying a second Russian missile system in defiance of strong objections by the United States. In an interview with American broadcaster CBS News, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would have to decide its defense systems on its own. Speaking to correspondent Margaret Brennan in […]
4 hours ago
FILE - In this May 1, 2021, file photo, Maoula Jan, 52, receives his second dose of the Pfizer vacc...
Associated Press

UK counts on vaccines, ‘common sense’ to keep virus at bay

LONDON (AP) — Britons are encouraged these days — though in most cases not required — to wear face coverings in crowded indoor spaces. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson regularly appears in the packed, poorly ventilated House of Commons cheek-by-jowl with other maskless Conservative lawmakers. For critics, that image encapsulates the flaw in the government’s […]
1 day ago
SAN DIEGO (AP) — San Diego police are investigating the deaths of a woman and her 2-year-old ...
Associated Press

Police investigate fatal fall of mother, son at ballpark

SAN DIEGO (AP) — San Diego police are investigating the deaths of a woman and her 2-year-old son Saturday after they fell from the third level of Petco Park, just as thousands of baseball fans were heading inside for a Padres game, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. The woman, 40, and the boy were pronounced […]
1 day ago
PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) — Authorities say a man has been arrested in connection with a shooting t...
Associated Press

1 killed, WSU football player hurt in shooting near campus

PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) — Authorities say a man has been arrested in connection with a shooting that killed one person and critically injured another near the Washington State University campus early Saturday morning. Police in Pullman, Washington, later identified the injured victim as 22-year-old Brandon C. Gray, a wide receiver on the school’s football team. […]
1 day ago
FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2021, file photo House Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth, D-Ky., joined ...
Associated Press

Panel OKs Dems’ $3.5T bill, crunch time for Biden agenda

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats pushed a $3.5 trillion, 10-year bill strengthening social safety net and climate programs through the House Budget Committee, but one Democrat voted “no,” illustrating the challenges party leaders face in winning the near unanimity they’ll need to push the sprawling package through Congress. The Democratic-dominated panel, meeting virtually Saturday, approved the […]
1 day ago
‘Overdue’: Biden sets Aug. 31 for US exit from Afghanistan