President Joe Biden on Wednesday formally announced plans to end America’s military presence in Afghanistan by September, in a White House address heavy on symbolism and marking one of his first defining decisions as commander in chief.
“I’ve concluded it’s time to end America’s longest war,” Biden said. “It’s time for American troops to come home.”
The administration had earlier this week signaled that the withdrawal timeline would coincide with the 20th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks, which have indelibly shaped American politics and foreign policy in the years since.
“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago,” Biden said. “That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021.”
Biden’s address was given from the Treaty Room, the same area where then-President George W. Bush announced that the military had launched airstrikes that marked the beginning of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
Biden said he spoke to Bush on Tuesday about the decision, a token of respect to the former president and the office that would have been nearly unthinkable under President Donald Trump, who seemed to relish denigrating his predecessors.
“We’re absolutely united in our respect and support for the valor, the courage and integrity of the women and men of the United States armed forces who have served,” Biden said.
However, he did not explicitly say whether Bush was supportive of the decision. Former President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president for eight years, lauded the Wednesday announcement as “the right decision” while acknowledging the challenges that loom.
“But after nearly two decades of putting our troops in harm’s way, it is time to recognize that we have accomplished all that we can militarily, and that it’s time to bring our remaining troops home,” Obama said in a statement. “I support President Biden’s bold leadership in building our nation at home and restoring our standing around the world.”
Following the speech, Biden departed for Arlington National Cemetery to visit the section of gravesites designated for those who served in Afghanistan and other recent conflicts.
“There’s no comforting distance in history in Section 60,” he said at the White House. “The grief is raw. It’s a visceral reminder of a living cost of war.”
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