Biden announces plan to end America's longest war

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Fernando Alfonso III, Melissa Mahtani and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 0137 GMT (0937 HKT) April 15, 2021
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3:29 p.m. ET, April 14, 2021

Here's a look at how US troop levels in Afghanistan have changed since 2001

From CNN's Christopher Hickey

President Biden formally announced his decision today to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan before Sept. 11.

When Biden took office in January, about 2,500 troops were stationed in Afghanistan, the lowest level since the beginning of the war nearly 20 years ago in 2001.

The US troop presence was at its highest throughout 2010 and 2011 after former President Barack Obama sent an additional 47,000 troops as part of his surge strategy in 2009.

Here's a look at the number of US troops in Afghanistan by president:

3:18 p.m. ET, April 14, 2021

NATO confirms withdrawal of troops starting May 1

From CNN's Arnaud Siad 

NATO says it plans to start withdrawing troops May 1, in line with what President Biden announced Wednesday afternoon.

"...recognising that there is no military solution to the challenges Afghanistan faces, Allies have determined that we will start the withdrawal of Resolute Support Mission forces by May 1. This drawdown will be orderly, coordinated, and deliberate. We plan to have the withdrawal of all US and Resolute Support Mission forces completed within a few months. Any Taliban attacks on Allied troops during this withdrawal will be met with a forceful response," the North Atlantic Council Ministerial Statement on Afghanistan said in a statement Wednesday.

3:18 p.m. ET, April 14, 2021

Pelosi on Biden's Afghanistan decision: "I support this transition"

From CNN's Annie Grayer

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a statement supporting President Biden’s announcement of his timeline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan:

"“The Biden Administration’s announced timeline for the safe, strategic and orderly departure of American troops from Afghanistan is an important and welcomed development. As Speaker, I support this transition and President Biden’s leadership to protect the safety of our troops and the security of the American people, which must be our priority," Pelosi said in the statement.

The House Speaker said Congress "remains committed to advancing peace and security in Afghanistan and the region, including an inclusive Afghan government that respects the human rights of all its people."

3:04 p.m. ET, April 14, 2021

Biden remembers son Beau and the generational impact of the Afghan conflict

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

Andrew Harnik/Pool/AP
Andrew Harnik/Pool/AP

During his remarks about withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, President Biden remembered his late son Beau Biden – who served in Iraq – calling Beau his "North Star."

"I'm the first president in 40 years who knows what it means to have a child serving in a war zone. Throughout this process, my North Star has been remembering what it was like when my late son Beau was deployed to Iraq. How proud he was to serve his country, how insistent he was to deploy with his unit and the impact it had on him and all of us as home," Biden said.

He noted the multigenerational impact the war has had on service members, highlighting the fact that there are members serving now whose parents have served in the same war, and said "it's time to end the forever war.'

"We have service members who are not yet born when our nation was attacked on 9/11. 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. It's time to end the forever war," the President said.

3:07 p.m. ET, April 14, 2021

Obama praises Biden's "bold leadership" on Afghanistan withdrawal

From CNN's Betsy Klein and Kevin Liptak

Former President Barack Obama praised President Biden’s “bold leadership” for his decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, calling it “the right decision.”

"President Biden has made the right decision in completing the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Today, we should pause to pay tribute to the extraordinary sacrifices of the Americans who have served in our longest war, as well as their families," a statement from Obama said.

“After nearly two decades of putting our troops in harm’s way, it is time to recognize that we have accomplished all that we can militarily, and that it’s time to bring our remaining troops home. I support President Biden’s bold leadership in building our nation at home and restoring our standing around the world,” Obama continued in the statement.

Echoing similar themes from Biden's remarks, the former President said the US should be focusing on other global challenges.

"Since we began to draw down U.S. forces in 2011, the United States made clear to the Afghan government that we would be gradually transitioning responsibility for security while creating time and space for efforts to improve governance and pursue diplomacy. Nearly a decade later, it is time to turn the page to the next chapter of our relationship with Afghanistan. There will be very difficult challenges and further hardship ahead in Afghanistan, and the U.S. must remain engaged diplomatically and through our development efforts to support the Afghan people, particularly those who have taken extraordinary risks on behalf of human rights," Obama wrote.

Some more context: As CNN has previously reported, Biden argued ardently to Obama that troops should be drawn down in 2009. He even wrote a long memo and faxed it to Obama from his Thanksgiving vacation on Nantucket. His views went unheeded and that brush-off stuck with Biden over the years. Now, Obama is praising Biden's "bold leadership" in finally pulling troops out.

2:50 p.m. ET, April 14, 2021

Biden: "We will not take our eye off the terrorist threat"

Andrew Harnik/Pool/AP
Andrew Harnik/Pool/AP

While announcing his decision to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, President Biden made clear that the US would "not take our eye off the terrorist threat," in Afghanistan or elsewhere across the globe.

"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.

"We will reorganize our counter-terrorism capabilities and the substantial assets in the region to prevent the reemergence of terrorist threat to our homeland over the horizon. We'll hold the Taliban accountable for its commitment not to allow any terrorist to threaten the United States or its allies on Afghan soil. The Afghan government has made that commitment to us as well, and we'll focus our full attention on the threat we face today."

"In my direction, my team is refining our national strategy to monitor and disrupt significant threats anywhere where they may arise, whether in Africa, Europe, Middle East and elsewhere," he added.

3:06 p.m. ET, April 14, 2021

Biden: Rather than return to war with the Taliban, we must focus on "challenges that are in front of us"

Following his announcement to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, President Biden said it is now time the US focus on other priorities abroad.

"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.

The President noted that these other priorities include China and strengthening global health communications to prepare for possible future pandemics.

"Rather than return to war with the Taliban, we have to focus on the challenges that are in front of us. We have to track and disrupt terrorist networks and operations that spread far beyond Afghanistan since 9/11. We have to shore up American competitiveness to face the stiff competition from an increasingly assured China," the President said.

"We have to defeat this pandemic and strengthen global health systems to prepare for the next one, because there will be another pandemic. We will be much more formidable to our adversaries and competitors in the long term if we fight the battles for the next 20 years, not the last 20," Biden continued.

2:49 p.m. ET, April 14, 2021

Biden told former President Bush about decision to withdraw troops

President Joe Biden said he talked with former President George W. Bush on Tuesday to tell him about his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in May.

"While he and I have had many disagreements over policy throughout the years, we're absolutely united in our respect and support to the valor, courage and integrity of the women and men of the United States armed forces who have served," Biden said.

The President also thanked those in the armed forces for their service, saying, "I have witnessed their bravery firsthand during my visits to Afghanistan. They have never wavered in their resolve."

"I'm immensely grateful for the bravery and backbone they have shown through nearly two decades of combat deployments. We as a nation are forever indebted to them and to their families," Biden added.

2:47 p.m. ET, April 14, 2021

Biden vows to continue supporting Afghan women after US troop withdrawal

Andrew Harnik/Pool/AP
Andrew Harnik/Pool/AP

President Biden addressed concerns raised over women's rights in Afghanistan and what may happen to progress made once the US withdraws its troops.

"We'll continue to support the rights of Afghan women and girls by maintaining significant humanitarian and development assistance," Biden said today during a speech. "We will ask other countries in the region do to do more to support Afghanistan, especially Pakistan, as well as Russia, China, India and Turkey. They always have a significant stake in the stable future for Afghanistan. Over the next few months, we will also determine what a continued US diplomatic presence in Afghanistan will look like."

Not everyone agrees on withdrawal: Among those advocating against a withdrawal, Gen. Mark Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had been among the most ardent, suggesting earlier in the deliberations that pulling American troops from Afghanistan could cause the government in Kabul to collapse and prompt backsliding in women's rights, according to people familiar with the conversations.

Other lawmakers warned that this decision could lead to civil war and the loss of rights for women and minorities in that country that were gained over 20 years of war.

“I’ve been to funerals of a more than a few Delawareans who died in the conflict and felt the pain of their parents, spouses, siblings, children. So, the idea of walking away is not an easy thing to accept,” said Sen. Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware and former Naval officer who served multiple tours in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. “It’s almost a no-win situation. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

Carper called on the administration to provide a full classified briefing to lawmakers so defense, national security, and diplomatic officials can be pressed on the impact of the withdrawal.