The United States will pull out its forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, The Washington Post reported late Tuesday evening Afghanistan’s time as quoting a senior White House official. The announcement comes as the American forces were expected to leave the country by May 01 deadline agreed between the previous US administration and the Taliban.
A White House official, on condition of anonymity, told the press that US President Biden would officially announce the decision on Wednesday (today).
In February 2020, the US signed a hasty peace deal with the Taliban in Doha that bounded the Taliban to cut ties with terrorist networks and start direct peace talks with the Afghan government. It also obliged Washington to withdraw American forces by May 01, 2021. For the first time in 19 years, a delegation led by the Afghan government sat with the Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, in September 2020.
The peace efforts facilitated by the US and hosted by the Gulf State of Qatar stalled as the Taliban showed little flexibility to reconcile with the Afghan government. Afghan officials repeatedly announced readiness for a power-sharing deal with the Taliban representatives, pressing the Taliban to agree to a permanent ceasefire, something that the group has rejected. As a precondition set by the Taliban for substantive talks and under US pressure the Afghan government released over 6,000 Taliban inmates including high-profile Taliban commanders who are accused of dozens of deadly bombings in Kabul.
After taking office, President Joe Biden announced that it would be “difficult” to meet the May 01 deadline but underlined that the US forces would Afghanistan in the future.
“We will begin an orderly drawdown of the remaining forces before May 01,” the US official said as quoted by an American newspaper.
NATO forces will ‘likely’ leave Afghanistan by September 2021, AFP reported on Wednesday, April 14, as quoting the German defense minister.
The US has around 2,500 troops in Afghanistan although a report claimed that the exact number of US troops in Afghanistan is around 3,500. There are also an estimated 7,000 foreign forces under the NATO umbrella in the country.
Peace efforts are underway to bring the Afghan warring parties to a peaceful power-sharing deal and end the nearly 20-year long bloody conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 2,000 US forces and left at least 100,000 Afghan civilians dead or wounded.
The new statement by the White House official comes at the threshold of another round of intra-Afghan talks to be hosted by Turkey and monitored by the United Nations. A statement issued by the Turkish ministry of foreign affairs said that Turkey, Qatar, and the United Nations will cooperate a high-level conference between the representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban in Istanbul from April 24 to May 04, 2021.
In response to the US announcement, a Taliban spokesperson said in a tweet that the group will not participate at any conference on Afghanistan until “all foreign forces” have withdrawn from Afghanistan. Some Afghan officials who are critics of the US-Taliban hasty deal say under the Trump administration the US government gave much leverage to the Taliban. They believe an uncalculated US withdrawal would jeopardize the gains Afghanistan has made over the nearly last 19 years in education, health, press freedom, and women’s rights.
Afghanistan’s chairperson of High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, in response to the Taliban’s refusal to join Istanbul talks, said the Taliban would make a miscalculation if they think can take over power once the foreign forces pulled out of the country.
The Biden administration previously had said that the US would remain engaged with the Afghan peace process and would continue to provide humanitarian aid and assistance to the Afghan government. As quoted by an American newspaper, the White House official told the press in his Tuesday briefing that the US had warned the Taliban that they will meet a ‘forceful response’ if the group attacked the US forces during the period of ‘orderly’ pullout. “We have told the Taliban in no uncertain terms that any attacks on US troops, as we undergo a safe and orderly withdrawal, will be met with a forceful response.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani last evening said in a tweet that he had spoken with the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the Afghan peace process and coming Istanbul conference. Ghani said he would speak with US President in a coming phone call. President Ghani, who was at odds with the previous US administration on the deal with the Taliban, has offered a three-phased peace proposal that includes a consensus on a political settlement with the Taliban, an internationally monitored ceasefire before elections, implementation of political arrangements to lay the foundation of a new system called the government of peace, and developing a constitutional framework, reintegration of refugees and development.
The new US announcement has a mixed reaction in Afghanistan. With the US and NATO forces leaving Afghanistan, the country may slip into a bloody civil war, said Afghanistan’s Parliament Speaker, Mir Rahman Rahmani, in response to the announcement. The people of Afghanistan wish to see foreign troops leaving their country one day but right now the country is not fully prepared to stand on its own with the absence of foreign troops. Rahmani warned that Afghanistan will turn into a safe haven for the international terrorists if the US troops pull out irresponsibly.
Many in Afghanistan fear that an irresponsible US withdrawal will cause the collapse of the Afghan government. Former Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, in his latest interview with a Turkish TV, urged the US to make a responsible exit. “If the US wants to leave, it should be a responsible leave and if it wants to stay, it should also be a responsible stay,” he said.
The Afghans raise concerns over the US exit from Afghanistan while NATO and US officials had previously said that the Taliban had failed to live up to their commitments made in the Doha agreement. Some US officials repeatedly warned that a hasty exit would jeopardize the already fragile Afghan government and put America’s interest at a risk. America’s independent special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, John Sopko, last month told the US Congress that without a peace deal in place US withdrawal would cause disaster and government collapse in Kabul.
Under the Obama administration, the United States launched diplomatic efforts to end the longest American war in its history. Obama’s successors also pursued to keep a back door channel open until the Trump administration signed a peace treaty with the Taliban militant last year. The Biden administration bears a huge responsibility on its shoulders as far as the American-led war is concerned in Afghanistan. Many Afghan experts believe that an uncalculated US exit would further embolden the Taliban militants who have already gained the confidence to see themselves as victors of the last 20 years of war in the country.