United States will withdraw its troops from Afghanistan but it will be "hard" to do before May 1 deadline-Biden
The United States will withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, President Joe Biden said Thursday, but it will be "hard" to do before a May 1 deadline.
Biden said his administration is still reviewing that deadline, a key part of the deal his predecessor Donald Trump made with the Taliban -- the militant group that harbored al-Qaida operatives responsible for the Sept. 11th attacks, was toppled by U.S. forces, but now governs over 4.5 million Afghans. After two decades of U.S. war, Biden said he "can't picture" American troops remaining in the country next year, but it's still unclear under what conditions and when they will depart. "If we leave, we're going to do so in a safe and orderly way," Biden said during a press conference Thursday.
Some 2,500 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan to train and support Afghan security forces, in addition to approximately 7,500 troops from other NATO allies. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited them on Sunday, becoming the first Biden Cabinet chief to meet with Afghan leaders like President Ashraf Ghani.
Biden's Secretary of State Antony Blinken has pushed to help reinvigorate the diplomatic process that brought the Afghan government and the Taliban together for the first time last fall.
As part of Trump's U.S.-Taliban deal, U.S. forces immediately began drawing down and closing bases, while the Taliban committed to no longer provide safe haven to al-Qaida and to negotiate with government representatives on a political settlement and ceasefire. The remaining U.S. forces are supposed to exit by May 1 if the Taliban are meeting their commitments -- something U.S. officials have said repeatedly they have not done. But if they don't depart, the Taliban has warned they could resume attacks against U.S. forces.
Biden is still weighing options presented to him by the Pentagon that include withdrawing all U.S. troops by or close to the May 1 deadline, keeping the troops there indefinitely, or keeping them there for another six months into November, according to a U.S. official. Asked if he'll abide by the deadline, Biden said Thursday, "It's going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline, just in terms of tactical reasons. It's hard to get those troops out. ... We're in consultation, I said, with our allies and partners, on how to proceed."
"We will leave. The question is when we leave," he added.