Biden Administration Signals Keeping U.S. Troops in Afghanistan Beyond May Withdrawal Date

CAMP BOST, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 11: U.S. service members walk off a helicopter on the runway at Camp Bost on September 11, 2017 in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. About 300 marines are currently deployed in Helmand Province in a train, advise, and assist role supporting local Afghan security forces. Currently the …
Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

The Biden administration is signaling that it will leave several thousand American troops in Afghanistan past a May 1st withdrawal date that was negotiated with the Taliban under the Trump administration.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday that it “will be tough” to meet that deadline and withdraw all the 2,500 U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan.

A reporter asked Psaki at a press briefing: “It’s now April 5th. The Afghanistan decision is due soon. Obviously, troops and their families are interested to know what the president’s decision will be. What more does he need before he can make or announce this decision?”

Psaki did not answer the reporter’s question but said, “As the president has said before, it will be tough to meet the May 1st deadline for full withdrawal for logistical reasons.”

She added:

He’s continuing to consult internally with his national security team and advisers and, of course, also with our partners and allies. And, you know, he has not — he’s been working on these issues, foreign policy issues, national security issues for several decades now, and, of course, wants to take the time to make the right decision.

Psaki did not give a timeline for when President Joe Biden would make a decision on pulling out U.S. troops.

Biden forecasted last month that U.S. troops would not be pulled out by the May 1st deadline.

“For tactical reasons, it’s going to be hard to get those troops out,” he said during his first press conference. “If we leave, we’re going to do so in a safe and orderly way.”

However, he added that he “can’t picture” U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2022 — raising the prospect that an “orderly” withdrawal could happen over the next eight months.

Over at the Pentagon, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the administration still wants to see a negotiated settlement to the end of the war and a review of the U.S. military’s force posture is ongoing.

“We still want to see a negotiated settlement to the end of this war. And it’s clear to us here at the Department of Defense that our colleagues at the State Department and our negotiators are taking this seriously, and they continue to try to press for a diplomatic solution,” he said.

“I think clearly, as the President himself has indicated, it’s going to be tough to meet May 1st as a deadline for the complete withdrawal. Logistically just tough to make,” he said.

“That said, the review is ongoing. The President hasn’t made a decision one way or the other about force levels in Afghanistan or missions in Afghanistan,” he said.

A Taliban spokesperson said after Biden’s press conference that if the U.S. does not abide by its obligations, it will be considered a break in the agreement.

“There is no specific condition for the cancellation of the agreement made in Doha. But of course, if either side does not abide by its obligations, it means breaking the agreement itself, and such are conditions,” Mohammad Naeem, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar and a member of its negotiation team told Anadolu Agency.

“Both we and the Americans wanted to end this war. Ending the war was the common goal, so there was no need to start the war again. But now that the other side is not adhering to it or showing such signs, it is their problem,” he said in a March 30 interview.

The U.S. has been fighting a war in Afghanistan since 2001 when al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was Saudi, planned the 9/11 attacks against the U.S. from a safe haven inside Afghanistan.

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan shortly after and routed the Taliban government, which had given safe haven to bin Laden. However, over the ensuing years, despite a height of more than 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan during the Obama administration, the Taliban regained strength and has been waging an insurgency against the U.S.-supported government.

Biden, as vice president, vowed in 2012 that U.S. troops would leave in 2014. However, the Obama administration left office in 2016 with 8,600 U.S. troops in the country.

Trump reduced their number to 2,500 troops upon leaving office, with a goal to withdraw all troops by May 1, 2021.

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