'We are ending America's longest war': Biden announces Aug. 31 as new Afghanistan withdrawal date

America achieved its objectives in Afghanistan — killing Osama bin Laden and preventing the country from becoming a safe haven for terrorists — President Biden said in a major policy address Thursday.

But there’s no “mission accomplished” moment to be had in Afghanistan, he added.

“We are ending America’s longest war,” Biden said, while also announcing that the administration is moving up the final withdrawal date for U.S. troops from Sept. 11 to Aug. 31.

He called the pullout “quite frankly, overdue.” The United States “did not go to Afghanistan to nation build,” he said.

US President Joe Biden speaks about the situation in Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, July 8, 2021. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
President Biden at the White House on Thursday. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Over 90 percent of U.S. troops have already left Afghanistan since Biden announced earlier this year that the withdrawal would take place. About 600 military personnel remain, most of whom guard the U.S. Embassy in Kabul or the capital city’s airport. The U.S. will also start evacuating Afghan translators and others who assisted American forces from the country in August, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

The Biden speech comes amid a rapid advance by Taliban forces, who now control 200 of 421 districts in Afghanistan and are battling the Afghan government over control of 124 districts, according to analysis by experts. The Taliban have recently overtaken strategic areas in Afghanistan’s north — a region that once formed the core territory of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

After 18 months of negotiations, U.S. and Taliban negotiators based in Doha, Qatar, reached a peace deal in February 2020. As part of the accord, the Taliban agreed to reject hosting terrorist groups like al-Qaida and refrain from attacking U.S. troops. The U.S. agreed to withdraw its forces from the country.

But the deal did not include the current Afghan government as a negotiating party. And subsequent talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha have proven fruitless.

Meanwhile, the Taliban have made rapid military gains during the course of the U.S. withdrawal — changing the facts on the ground in Afghanistan in their favor while ostensibly negotiating with a government they hope to overthrow.

Marines prepare to carry Cpl. Jorge Villarreal of San Antonio, Texas with India Battery, 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment to a MEDEVAC helicopter near Forward Operating Base (FOB) Zeebrugge on October 17, 2010 in Kajaki, Afghanistan. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Marines prepare to carry a man to a helicopter in Kajaki, Afghanistan, in 2010. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

As Biden said, the Afghanistan War, which began in October 2001, is the longest in U.S. history. More than 2,300 U.S. troops have been killed in action, and over 20,600 wounded. More than 70,000 Afghan and Pakistani civilians have died as a “direct result” of the war, according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project, and roughly 241,000 people have been killed in the Afghanistan-Pakistan “war zone” since 2001.

Experts believe the Taliban may soon overtake the central government in Kabul entirely — bringing the country, once again, under the austere Islamist movement’s rule. Biden said Thursday that he does not believe a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is inevitable, but the Taliban and the government would need to develop a “modus vivendi” in order to end the ongoing insurgency.

Biden has already promised the besieged Afghan government, led by President Ashraf Ghani, $3.3 billion in security funding, as well as $266 million in humanitarian aid.

U.S. officials believe the Taliban may gain total control of the country in as little as six months, according to the New York Times. In some instances, Afghan troops, including elite units, have surrendered or deserted their posts rather than face the Taliban offensive.

The potential collapse of the Afghan government to the Taliban is a bitter coda to America’s “war on terror,” which began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

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