The White House hasn’t yet announced whether special operations troops will remain in Afghanistan after President Joe Biden on April 14 outlined a drawdown of combat troops in the region that will begin May 1 and conclude by Sept. 11.
Special operations troops were the first deployed in the war in Afghanistan nearly two decades ago. As of this year, as many as 1,000 special operations forces are reported to remain in Afghanistan on top of some 2,500 U.S. combat troops.
Biden’s announcement came after his predecessor, former President Donald Trump last year outlined an agreement with the Taliban, saying troops would withdraw from Afghanistan by May 1 in exchange for a promise from the Taliban for a reduction in violence, counterterrorism guarantees, and a pledge to kickstart intra-Afghan peace talks.
The president said Wednesday that it is now “time to end America’s longest war” and “time for American troops to come home,” noting that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York City “cannot explain” why U.S. soldiers should remain in the Central Asian country.
He said he made the decision after consulting with Vice President Kamala Harris, top military leaders, lawmakers, and former President George Bush. Bush, through his spokesman, declined to comment about his conversation with Biden.
Biden said that the United States will continue to provide security assistance to Afghanistan’s army, adding that if the Taliban attacks, U.S. troops will defend themselves with “all the tools available.”
The Taliban are also being “held accountable” for not allowing terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, to flourish in Afghanistan, the president said.
Biden’s announcement, which he followed with a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, marks perhaps the most significant foreign policy decision in the early going of his presidency.
The announcement comes just weeks after Gen. Richard Clarke, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command, told a Senate hearing that, “the capabilities that the U.S. provides for the Afghans to be able to combat the Taliban and other threats that reside in Afghanistan are critical to their success.”
He told Congress that Afghanistan’s military forces need assistance from U.S. troops to successfully counter the Taliban, echoing the sentiments of other military leaders in saying that the Taliban have not upheld their commitment to reduce violence in the region, after numerous attacks in the country that have been blamed on the group. Those attacks have largely been against Afghans and haven’t targeted Americans.
Clarke at the Senate hearing last month declined to provide the details of possible strategic options he has outlined to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on how he could provide needed counterterrorism troops or capabilities if special operations forces are not physically in Afghanistan.
Jack Phillips and The Associated Press contributed to this report.