President Biden delivered a speech on Thursday on his Afghanistan drawdown and said Washington’s “military mission” in the country will conclude on August 31st. While the president has plans to keep a troop presence in Kabul at the US embassy and the international airport, he made a strong case against continuing the war against the Taliban in front of a hawkish White House press corps.
“We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build. It is the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone,” Biden said.
Some hawks in Washington argue that the US could stay longer since there have been no US casualties in the country for over a year. But Biden pointed out that there have been no US combat deaths because of the deal signed with the Taliban in Doha in February 2020.
The Doha agreement required the US and all foreign troops to leave by May 1st of this year. Biden broke the agreement by pushing back the withdrawal deadline to September 11th, but the Taliban seem to have accepted the new date and are still refraining from attacking foreign forces. Biden said if he broke the agreement even more, he would have left US troops “in the middle of a civil war.”
“I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome,” Biden said.
Biden offered little detail on what the US military footprint in Afghanistan will look like after August 31st. “I intend to maintain our diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, and we are coordinating closely with our international partners in order to continue to secure the international airport,” he said.
Turkey has agreed to help the US control the Kabul airport, and the two countries are in the process of working out an agreement on the mission. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with his Turkish counterpart on the matter on Wednesday, but no final plan has yet been agreed on.
A report published by Politico on Wednesday said there are about 600 US troops left in Afghanistan that will stay beyond September. These troops will mostly be stationed at the embassy, and some will help Turkey control the airport. The Pentagon has established a new military command structure that will run out of the embassy.
The Pentagon said the duties of the embassy-based military command will go beyond providing security for the diplomatic staff. It will also support the airport mission, provide assistance to the Afghan military, and support “counterterrorism efforts.” This leaves open a wide range of possibilities for what the US military could do out of the embassy and is a sign that Washington’s war in Afghanistan might not end.