WASHINGTON -- President Biden is planning to withdraw all remaining troops from Afghanistan and will complete the pullout before Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that sparked the United States’ longest war, according to a senior U.S. official. Biden plans to make the announcement this week.
The plan means that a portion of the few thousand troops in Afghanistan will remain after May 1, a deadline set last year with the Taliban. White House officials feared that pulling out all U.S. troops by that deadline would have undercut efforts to settle the war between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the official said.
The delay will give U.S. commanders time to conduct an orderly withdrawal, instead of a rush to depart by next month, the senior official said.
With a firm deadline for departure, U.S. officials are hopeful that the Taliban will not escalate attacks on U.S. bases and on Afghan security forces in coming months. The Taliban, which took power in 1996, was driven out of Kabul five years later when the United States invaded in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by Al Qaeda, the militant group led by Osama bin Laden that had taken refuge in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials said that raids by special operations troops based outside the country and airstrikes could be employed if intelligence found that Al Qaeda posed a growing threat.
U.S. officials are planning to keep a small contingent of Marines at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the capital, to provide security, the person said.
Officially there are 2,500 troops in Afghanistan now but that doesn’t count special operations forces and other units who rotate in temporarily and can increase the number to as much as 3,500 or more.
Still, that’s the lowest troop level the U.S has had in Afghanistan since early in the war. At its height there were nearly 100,000 troops there.
Along with the U.S. departure, there are 8,500 troops from other countries, most of who are likely to depart as well.
The last U.S. combat casualties were in February 2020, when two soldiers were killed in an ambush in eastern Afghanistan.
Army Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, the top American commander in Kabul, had warned recently that a rapid U.S. withdrawal would leave the Afghan armed forces without vital support, especially for its fledgling air force, which relies on contractors to maintain its planes and helicopters.
“When you start talking about removing our presence … certain things like air, air support and maintenance of that air support becomes more and more problematic,” Miller said in an interview in March.
Staff writer Tracy Wilkinson contributed to this article.