The US military mission in Afghanistan will end on August 31, President Joe Biden announced Thursday, as Afghan commandos battled the Taliban for control of a provincial capital in the most brutal attack by the militants since Washington stepped up its troop withdrawal.
Nearly 20 years after the invasion in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the US military has “achieved” its goals in the country by killing Osama bin Laden, humiliating al-Qaeda and preventing more attacks on the United States Biden said in a White House address.
“We are ending America’s longest war,” he said.
“The status quo is not an option,” Biden said of his stay in the country. “I will not send another generation of Americans to the war in Afghanistan.”
“The United States cannot afford to remain tied to policies designed to respond to a world as it was 20 years ago,” he said. “We have to face the threats where they are now.”
We are repositioning our resources to face terror threats where they are today: in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
But make no mistake, we have the capabilities to protect the homeland against any resurgent terrorist challenge from Afghanistan.
— President Biden (@POTUS) July 8, 2021
Biden said the United States “didn’t go to Afghanistan to build a nation” and that only the Afghan people should determine their future.
But he acknowledged the uncertainty of what that future would look like.
When asked whether a Taliban takeover was “inevitable,” the president replied, “No, it isn’t.”
But, he admitted, “the chances of a single unified government in Afghanistan controlling the entire country are highly unlikely.”
“The Afghan government… must come together,” the president said. “They clearly have the capacity to hold the government in place. The question is, will they generate the kind of cohesion to do it?”
He expressed his confidence in the Afghan armed forces, which have been trained and equipped by the United States for years, against the resurgent Taliban.
“I don’t trust the Taliban,” Biden said, “but I trust the capability of the Afghan military.”
And he flatly rejected comparisons to the American experience in Vietnam.
“The Taliban is not the North Vietnamese army,” Biden said. “They are not remotely comparable in terms of capacity.”
“There will not be any circumstance where you will see people from Afghanistan lift off the roof of a United States embassy,” he added. “It’s not comparable at all.”
Biden’s speech came as fighting raged for the second day in a row in the capital of the Afghan province of Badghis, with residents either fleeing the city or barricading themselves in their homes.
Plumes of smoke rose over Qala-i-Naw, with gunfire as the soundtrack as the insurgents battled hundreds of Afghan commandos who had rushed to the city at night.
Aziz Tawakoli, a resident of Qala-i-Naw, said Taliban fighters are still roaming the city.
“You can see them going through the streets on their motorcycles,” he said.
Badghis health official Abdul Latif Rostaee said at least 10 civilians have been taken to hospital since the fighting broke out.
“Our security forces are fighting them bravely and the enemy is being pushed back,” Badghis governor Hessamuddin Shams told AFP on Thursday. “They flee. We will hit the enemy hard.”
Badghis Provincial Council member Zia Gul Habibi said the Taliban had killed but also surrounded the city.
“All the districts are under their control… People are really scared,” she said. Afghan civilians have long paid an exorbitant price in the fighting.
Since the US stepped up its withdrawal – which the Pentagon has said is 90 percent complete – the Taliban have launched a blistering campaign to capture new territory, and fears are mounting that Afghan forces will collapse without essential US air support.
President Ashraf Ghani said the government had the capacity to deal with the situation, but admitted difficulties lay ahead.
“What we are experiencing is one of the most complicated phases of the transition,” he said in a speech in Kabul.
“The legitimacy is ours; God is with us.”
In London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said most British troops had left Afghanistan as part of a NATO withdrawal parallel to the US withdrawal.
The Taliban, meanwhile, appear to be pushing for a full military victory.
Suspected peace talks between the insurgents and the government in Doha have largely failed after months of deadlock and the Taliban have taken dozens of new districts since early May.
Human Rights Watch said the insurgents forced people from their homes in northern areas they had captured.
Biden pledged to continue to support the Afghan government and security forces and said thousands of Afghan translators who worked for the US armed forces and were threatened by the Taliban could find refuge in the United States.
“There’s a house for you in the United States, if you want,” he said. “We will stand with you, just as you stood with us.”