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U.S. Military Pullout From Afghanistan Beginning After Nearly 20 Years

After nearly 20 years, President Joe Biden says the U.S. military is exiting Afghanistan.
Posted at 7:20 PM, Apr 30, 2021

May 1 is the beginning of the end of nearly 20 years of U.S. military conflict in Afghanistan.

"It's time to end America's longest war. It's time for American troops to come home," President Joe Biden said. 

By Sept. 11, President Joe Biden says the roughly 2,500 American forces remaining in the country will pull out. It marks the closing of a deadly and costly chapter in U.S. history that began with the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

"On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against the Al-Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan," President George W. Bush said.

Less than a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush announced the U.S. would go to war in Afghanistan, a mostly mountainous Asian nation some 7,000 miles away. The objectives: punish the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization behind the attacks and remove from power the Taliban leaders protecting them.

"More than two weeks ago, I gave Taliban leaders a series of clear and specific demands: Close terrorist training camps, hand over leaders of the Al-Qaeda network, and return all foreign nationals, including American citizens, unjustly detained in your country. None of these demands were met, and now the Taliban will pay a price," Bush said.

The United Kingdom, France and others quickly pledged forces to support the U.S. in Operation Enduring Freedom. Dozens of other countries helped in other ways, like intel sharing. And on the ground, a coalition of Afghan militias led a majority of the initial combat as partners of the U.S.

Throughout November, Taliban strongholds were seized by these forces. With December came the foundation for the creation of a new Afghan government, as well as the fall of Kandahar, the last remaining Taliban stronghold. The swearing-in of Hamid Karzai as head of the country’s interim government closed out 2001. 

Operation Anaconda in March 2002 would mark a rocky start as the first big ground assault by U.S. forces and its Afghan allies against Taliban fighters. From there, U.S. officials began shifting their attention toward restructuring the country and helping create an Afghan army. 

"By helping to build an Afghanistan that is free from this evil and is a better place in which to live, we are working in the best traditions of George Marshall," Bush said.

During the months that followed, Hamid Karzai would be selected by the country's tribal leaders for a two-year presidential term. 2003 brought a declaration from U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that major combat was ending. NATO would go on to take the lead of the International Security Assistance Force, with the objective of enabling the new government to protect itself and prevent terrorists from using the country as a safe haven in the future. 

As the country passed its new constitution and held its first democratic presidential election in 2004, with Karzai winning, Afghanistan entered a new chapter. During the parliamentary and provincial elections that following year, the first of their kind in decades, Afghan women turned out in scores to cast their ballots.

But any steadiness Afghanistan had gained began to fade in 2006 as violence from insurgents increased. Suicide attacks skyrocketed compared to the previous year, while the country's developing security forces struggled to gain a foothold. By 2007, members of NATO debated whether the country's security should be handed over to Afghanistan's government or if more troops from abroad should be deployed -- the U.S. leaning heavily toward the latter.

"With our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat Al-Qaeda and combat extremism. Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away," President Barack Obama said.

Under President Barack Obama, more troops were sent as Taliban insurgency and violence grew.

"Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda," Obama said.

Almost a decade into the war, the killing of the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks raised hope. Obama announced plans to withdraw troops from the country. But violence continued and U.S. and NATO once again found themselves debating how to wind down the war and hand control of security over to the country.

"Ultimately, it is up to the people of Afghanistan to take ownership of their future, to govern their society, and to achieve an everlasting peace," President Donald Trump said.

Entering the White House in 2017, President Donald Trump found his plans for a swift exit from the war disrupted amid continued surges in violence and delayed talks with the Taliban. These disruptions would last throughout the course of the Trump presidency, though U.S. troop presence would continue to drop in Afghanistan.

"We're bringing our soldiers back from Afghanistan, all coming back," Trump said.

Under President Biden a final withdrawal has begun with Sept. 11 the target date for completing the pullout of the last of the American troops months after President Trump's goal of May 1.

"I'm now the fourth United States president to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans, two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility onto a fifth," Biden said.