The Biden administration plans to withdraw the last US troops from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks later this year, ending American involvement in its longest war.
President Joe Biden is expected on Wednesday to announce that he will keep thousands of forces beyond the May 1 deadline that was negotiated last year with the Taliban, but will promise to be out by September 11, according to several reports.
And it was reported on Tuesday night that Britain will withdraw nearly all of its 750 troops stationed in Afghanistan after Mr Biden’s announcement. British troops are heavily reliant upon US infrastructure and bases in the country.
The US invaded the country shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center buildings, marking the start of a decades-long “war on terror”.
His predecessor, Donald Trump, had promised a swift draw down but was urged by military advisers not to withdraw too quickly from the messy and intractable conflict.
Officially, there are 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan, although the number fluctuates and is currently around 3,500.
“We have long known that there is no military solution to the problems plaguing Afghanistan,” a senior administration official said on Tuesday ahead of the announcement, adding that the drawdown would come “no later than 9/11 but potentially a meaningful amount of time before then.”
The official said a small number would remain beyond that date, but in the capacity of protecting the US embassy. The move will be done in coordination with Western allies, the official added.
Peace talks that began last year between the Taliban and the Afghan government had been seen as the best hope, but they have produced little so far.
Postponing the US withdrawal carries the risk of the Taliban resuming attacks on US and coalition forces, possibly escalating a war which has already cost trillions of dollars and the lives of more than 2,000 US service members and countless Afghans.
In a February 2020 agreement with the Trump administration, the Taliban agreed to halt such attacks and hold peace talks with the Afghan government, in exchange for a US commitment to a complete withdrawal by May of this year.
Current and former military officers have argued that leaving now, with the Taliban in a position of relative strength and the Afghan government in a fragile state, would risk losing what has been gained in 20 years of fighting.
“A withdrawal would not only leave America more vulnerable to terrorist threats; it would also have catastrophic effects in Afghanistan and the region that would not be in the interest of any of the key actors, including the Taliban,” a bipartisan experts group known as the Afghan Study Group concluded in a February report.
The group, whose co-chair, retired General Joseph Dunford, is a former commander of US forces in Afghanistan and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, recommended Mr Biden extend the deadline beyond May, preferably with some sort of agreement by the Taliban.
In the last two years a bipartisan consensus has emerged that the US should leave Afghanistan and end its “forever wars” in the region.
Mr Biden has signalled that the US should be concentrating on greater threats, such as the global dominance of China and aggression from Russia.