Joe Biden pledged on Thursday that he would not send “another generation of Americans” to war in Afghanistan and said the US would withdraw its forces from the nation by 31 August.
“Our military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on August 31,” Biden said.
The president had previously said the withdrawal would wrap up by 11 September, but the Pentagon announced this week that more than 90% of the operation was already completed.
Biden said senior defense officials had told him that moving swiftly was the most effective method to protect US troops, and the president noted that no service members had been lost in the withdrawal process so far.
“In this context, speed is safety,” Biden said.
US troops left in the middle of the night last week from their main Afghan airbase at Bagram, north of Kabul, without even telling their Afghan military counterparts. The US withdrawal is now 90% complete.
Retired Maj Gen James “Spider” Marks told CNN on Thursday afternoon that he saw no outcome for Afghanistan in the near future other than civil war, with the Taliban surging to take control of vital chunks of the country but leaving enough of a vacuum to create, once again, “a breeding ground” for terrorism by Islamist fundamentalists.
Before the president spoke on Thursday afternoon, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said of the planned withdrawal: “We’re not going to have a ‘mission accomplished’ moment in this regard. It’s a 20-year war that has not been won militarily.”
That remark was seen as a reference to President George W Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech in 2003 from the deck of a US aircraft carrier, in which he announced “major combat operations in Iraq have ended”. That false pronouncement has been widely mocked in the 18 years since it was delivered.
Biden on Thursday warned that remaining in Afghanistan would mean additional US casualties to continue a war started two decades ago.
The president noted that 2,448 Americans had been killed in the war in Afghanistan, and another 20,722 have been wounded.
He expressed appreciation for all the US troops who had given the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan and the many others who returned home with serious injuries, both physical and mental.
“I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome,” the president said.
“We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build,” he added. “And it’s the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country.”
The president emphasized that the US would “continue to provide civilian and humanitarian assistance” in Afghanistan, including defending the rights of the country’s women and girls.
Apart from repatriating troops from America’s longest war, Biden is under huge pressure to bring Afghan interpreters and other vulnerable people to the US.
He offered assurances that those who assisted US troops will be protected by America.