Biden Says US Troops May Miss Afghanistan Withdrawal Deadline

U.S. President Joe Biden admitted Thursday that some 2,500 U.S. troops could still be in Afghanistan after May 1, the agreed upon deadline for American forces to leave the country under a year-old deal with the Taliban. “It’s going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline,” Biden told reporters during a White House news conference, his first as president. Biden cited “tactical reasons” for the possible delay but said that even if the United States does not meet the deadline, he could not envision U.S. troops staying in Afghanistan past next year. President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, March 25, 2021, in Washington.”I can’t picture that being the case,” he said. “It is not my intention to stay there for a long time.” “The question is how and under what circumstances do we meet that agreement that was made by President (Donald) Trump to leave under a deal that looks like it’s not being able to be worked out to begin with,” he said. Biden initiated a review of the February 2020 deal between the administration of former president Trump and the Taliban shortly after he took office. And while that review has yet to be formally completed, several high-ranking officials have questioned whether the Taliban have kept their side of the bargain. “It’s clear that the Taliban have not upheld what they said they would do and reduce the violence,” Gen. Richard Clarke, the commander of all U.S. special forces, told U.S. lawmakers earlier Thursday.  “It is clear they took a deliberate approach and increased their violence since the peace accords were signed.”  Special Operations Command Gen. Richard Clarke speaks at a hearing on Capitol Hill, March 25, 2021.U.S.-Taliban deal Other officials have likewise questioned the Taliban’s commitment to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a base of operations for groups like al-Qaida, many pointing to evidence that Taliban leadership has yet to sever ties with the terror organization. Despite such public misgivings from U.S. officials about the deal, Taliban officials are insisting Washington honor the agreement as is.  FILE – Members of the Taliban delegation arrive for an Afghan peace conference in Moscow, Russia, March 18, 2021.”It is clearly stated in the agreement that America will withdraw all its troops (from Afghanistan) by May 1, and we again ask them to strictly adhere to the mutually agreed deadline,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told VOA earlier this week.  “In case Americans do not meet their obligations and abandon the agreement, the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) will be forced to defend their nation and consider all other options to force foreign troops out of the country,” Mujahid said, without elaborating.  FILE – A U.S. soldier keeps watch at an Afghan National Army base in Logar province, Afghanistan, Aug. 5, 2018.U.S. military and defense officials, however, continue to raise concerns. Clarke, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, warned lawmakers Thursday that the current government in Afghanistan could fall and that its security forces could be overrun by the Taliban should U.S. troops leave.  “While progress has been made … the capabilities that the U.S. provides for the Afghans to be able to combat the Taliban and other threats that reside in Afghanistan are critical to their success,” Clarke told the Senate Armed Services Committee, noting he had traveled to Afghanistan recently to meet with the head of the Afghan military’s new joint, special operations command. Earlier this month, a U.S. government watchdog similarly warned that U.S. and international efforts to build a strong and stable Afghanistan “may turn out to be a bridge too far.”  “It may not be an overstatement that if foreign assistance is withdrawn and peace negotiations fail, Taliban forces could be at the gates of Kabul in short order,” said John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).    Fixing Afghanistan Might Be ‘a Bridge Too Far,’ US Watchdog WarnsUnabating violence and the Afghan government’s inability to sustain itself and its security forces could doom peaceful conclusion to decades of war, US inspector general for Afghan reconstruction saysSopko also cautioned that it is not just the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces that could cripple the Afghan government. He said the departure of approximately 18,000 contractors and trainers, also required under the U.S.-Taliban deal, would be even more devastating.  “The Afghan government relies heavily on these foreign contractors and trainers to function,” Sopko said. ”No Afghan air frame can be sustained as combat effective for more than a few months in the absence of contractor support.”  VOA’s Ayaz Gul in Islamabad contributed to this report.

About The Author

Leave a Reply