US President Joe Biden plans to publicly set the deadline for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan to 11 September, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, CNN, the New York Times and The Washington Post have reported, citing administration sources.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced later Tuesday that the president would deliver remarks laying out his troop withdrawal plans on Wednesday.
"The president has been consistent in his view that there's not a military solution to Afghanistan, that we've been there for far too long," Psaki said, speaking to reporters in Washington.
The new deadline is well over four months beyond the original 1 May withdrawal deadline agreed by the Trump administration with the signing of the peace agreement with the Taliban in Doha in February 2020.
Trump reduced troop numbers in Afghanistan from 14,000 to 2,500 apiece by the time he left office in January 2021, (although it has subsequently been reported that as many as 1,000 more troops were not included in the latter calculation). Biden froze the withdrawal, leading to fears of a further destabilisation of the situation in the Central Asian nation after the 1 May deadline passes.
Late last month, the Taliban threatened to resume hostilities against coalition forces if they did not completely withdrawal by the deadline as Biden indicated that a complete pullout by that date would be “tough” to pull off.
Amid the stalled US withdrawal, its NATO allies actually increased troop numbers. Last month, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that “certain conditions” would need to be met before his country’s troops would leave the country, “because we didn’t make all these great sacrifices over the years just to see Afghanistan descend into chaos once more.”
NATO defence and foreign ministers announced plans to hold an emergency virtual meeting in the wake of Tuesday's announcement by the White House. Some 9,600 alliance troops are stationed in the country. Along with Afghanistan, the meeting is expected to discuss other issues "including Russia's aggressive actions" and preparations for the formal NATO summit.
Afghanistan is the longest war in US and NATO history. The war began in November 2001, with the US launching an invasion of the country on the pretext of its sheltering of Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda* leader held responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks. Bin Laden was killed in a US SEAL team raid in neighbouring Pakistan in May 2011, but US and NATO forces remained in Afghanistan to help prop up the Kabul government against the Taliban insurgency.
* A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries. Held responsible for the 11 September 2001 terror attacks in New York City, Washington, DC and Pennsylvania which killed nearly 3,000 people and led to thousands more premature deaths in the years that followed.