EFEWashington

The United States will began removing its remaining troops from Afghanistan on May 1 and the withdrawal is to be complete by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington that spurred the invasion, President Joe Biden said Wednesday.

"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 on to a fifth," he said in a televised address from the White House.

"I've concluded it's time to end America's longest war. It's time for American troops to come home," the president said, confirming what senior administration officials told reporters Tuesday.

The number of US military personnel in Afghanistan peaked at 100,000 during the period 2010-2012 under then-President Barack Obama, who Biden served as vice president.

By the time Obama left office in January 2017, the troop level was below 9,000 and it currently stands at around 2,500. Under an agreement Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, signed with the Taliban in 2020, US forces were supposed to be out of Afghanistan by the start of next month.

"We will not conduct a hasty rush to the exit. We'll do it responsibly, deliberately and safely. And we will do it in full coordination with our allies and partners, who now have more forces in Afghanistan than we do," Biden said.

"The Taliban should know that if they attack us as we draw down, we will defend ourselves and our partners with all the tools at our disposal," he said.

Not long after the president concluded his remarks, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that forces from the alliance's member-states would likewise begin pulling out of Afghanistan on May 1.

"We went into Afghanistan together, we have adjusted our posture together and we are united in leaving together," he said at a joint press conference in Brussels with the US secretaries of state, Antony Blinken, and defense, retired Gen. Lloyd Austin.

In his speech, Biden sought to address in advance the arguments likely to be advanced by critics of the decision, notably by stressing that the US has accomplished what it set out to do in Afghanistan: neutralizing al-Qaeda and its founder, Osama bin Laden.

"We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021," he said.

"War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational undertaking. We were attacked. We went to war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives. Bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda is degraded in Afghanistan," the president said.

Bin Laden was the guest of the Taliban for several years prior to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and claimed responsibility for devising the plan to crash hijacked jetliners into the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington.

US special forces killed Bin Laden in 2011 during a raid on the safe house in Pakistan where he had lived for some years.

"US troops, as well as forces deployed by our NATO allies and operational partners, will be out of Afghanistan before we mark the 20th anniversary of that heinous attack on Sept. 11, but we will not take our eye off the terrorist threat," Biden said.

The president also vowed to "hold the Taliban accountable for its commitment not to allow any terrorist to threaten the United States or its allies on Afghan soil."

Following the address, Biden visited Arlington National Cemetery to pay his respects at the graves of US service members who died in Afghanistan.

/dr