President Joe Biden would not say if all U.S. troops would leave Afghanistan by May 1 under an agreement with the Taliban, but he added that he does not foresee the military’s presence in Afghanistan extending into next year.
Roughly 3,500 U.S. troops are currently in Afghanistan, according to the New York Times – even though defense officials publicly insist the number is actually 2,500 troops.
Although the United States has pledged to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan 37 days from now, the Biden administration has not decided yet whether to honor that commitment.
On Thursday, a reporter asked Biden directly if he could promise the American people that no U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan on May 2.
“The answer is that it’s going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline, ” Biden responded. “Just in terms of tactical reasons: It’s hard to get those troops out.”
Biden said that he and other U.S. government officials have been meeting with leaders of countries with troops in Afghanistan to find a way to leave Afghanistan safely.
“It is not my intention to stay there for a long time,” Biden said. “But the question is how and under what circumstances do we meet that agreement that was made by President Trump to leave under a deal that looks like it’s not being able to be worked out to begin with: How is that done? But we are not staying [for] a long time.”
The Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said on Wednesday that he does not think there is enough time to pull all U.S. and coalition troops along with their equipment from Afghanistan by May 1.
“So I think there’s a general feeling that May 1 is too soon,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said during a Foreign Policy virtual event.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declined to respond when reporters asked him about Smith’s comments during a regularly scheduled news briefing on Wednesday.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said the U.S. government wants to see a “responsible end to this conflict,” but he did not indicate when U.S. troops would leave Afghanistan.
Austin, who oversaw the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011, also said he understands the challenges of removing all troops and equipment from Afghanistan in a short amount of time if Biden ultimately decides to go forward with the withdrawal.
“Whatever the decision the President makes you can trust that it will be fully supported,” Austin told reporters on March 20.
While the end of the U.S. military’s presence in Afghanistan was supposed to be based on conditions on the ground, President Donald Trump’s administration made it very clear that it was looking for an immediate exit from a country in which the U.S. has spent nearly 20 years waging a counterinsurgency.
Since Biden took office, defense officials have repeatedly said the Taliban have failed to meet their obligations of the withdrawal agreement, which allegedly include severing all ties with Al Qaeda and decreasing the number of its attacks.
“It’s clear that the Taliban have not upheld what they said they would do and reduce the violence,” Army Gen. Richard Clarke, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, told lawmakers on Thursday. “While on the positive side, they have not attacked U.S. forces, they took a deliberate approach and increased their violence since the peace accords were signed.”
Clarke also said the U.S. military’s support to Afghan troops and police is “critical to their success” to fight the Taliban and other threats in the country.
One of the major reasons why the Afghan security forces cannot stand on their own after nearly 20 years and $88 billion is the U.S. military tried to create an Afghan army in its own image, said John Sopko, the inspector general for reconstruction in Afghanistan.
“In other words, an army that uses the systems and the equipment and the weapons that our army does,” Sopko said. “And yet, this is a country where a huge portion of the population are illiterate, where there’s very little electricity, and very little internet.”
On Thursday, Biden stressed that the United States will withdraw its troops from Afghanistan during his administration.
When asked if it is possible that U.S. troops could still be in Afghanistan next year, Biden said: “I can’t picture that being the case.”
However, more than 10 years ago Biden pledged that the United States would leave Afghanistan by 2014 “come hell or high water.”
Featured image: A rear door gunner on a CH-47 keeps watch on the mountains in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan, May 12, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jessi Ann McCormick.)