US President Joe Biden On Thursday announced the withdrawal of all American troops from Afghanistan by September 11 this year, thus bringing to end the country's longest war, spanning across two decades.
"US troops, as well as forces deployed by our NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) Allies and operational partners, will be out of Afghanistan before we mark the 20th anniversary of that heinous attack on September 11 (2001),” said Biden during a televised address from the White House on Wednesday.
Soon after, Biden went to the Arlington National Cemetery to pay homage to the American soldiers who died in the Afghanistan war, which began in 2001 after Al Qaeda terrorists based in Afghanistan attacked the World Trade Centre in New York.
Responding to questions at the cemetery, Biden said the troop-pullout was not a tough decision.
"No, it wasn't. To me, it was absolutely clear. Absolutely clear. We went for two reasons: to get rid of (Al Qaeeda chief Osama) Bin Laden and to end the safe haven. From the very beginning, you may recall, I never thought we were there to somehow unify Afghanistan. It's never been done," Biden told reporters.
In his address to the nation, Biden reiterated that his administration would remain alert to the threat of terrorism.
"We'll reorganise our counterterrorism capabilities and the substantial assets in the region to prevent re-emergence of terrorists, of the threat to our homeland from over the horizon. We'll hold the Taliban accountable for its commitment not to allow any terrorists to threaten the United States or its allies from 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,” he said.
Biden said his team is refining national strategy to monitor and disrupt significant terrorist threats not only in Afghanistan, but anywhere they may arise -- Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere.
“It's time for American troops to come home,” Biden said.
“The United States will begin our final withdrawal -- begin it on May 1 of this year. 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,” he 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.
Before making the announcement, Biden had spoken with former US presidents Barack Obama and George Bush.
"President Biden has made the right decision in completing the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan,” Obama said in a statement later.
“After nearly two decades of putting our troops in harm's way, it is time to recognise that we have accomplished all that we can militarily, and that it's time to bring our remaining troops home,” he said.
Biden also received applause from Democratic lawmakers.
Biden's announcement comes a day after the US intelligence community expressed doubt over a peace deal between the US forces and the Taliban
"The Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield, and the Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support,” said the annual World Threat Assessment report by the Office of Director of National Intelligence.
"Kabul continues to face setbacks on the battlefield, and the Taliban is confident it can achieve military victory. Afghan forces continue to secure major cities and other government strongholds, but they remain tied down in defensive missions and have struggled to hold recaptured territory or re-establish a presence in areas abandoned in 2020,” the report said.
The US and the Taliban signed a landmark deal in Doha on February 29, 2020 to bring lasting peace in war-torn Afghanistan and allow US troops to return home from America's longest war.
Under the US-Taliban pact signed in Doha, the US agreed to withdraw all its soldiers from Afghanistan in 14 months.
Since the US-led invasion that ousted the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks, America has spent more than USD 1 trillion in fighting and rebuilding in Afghanistan.
About 2,400 US soldiers have been killed, along with tens of thousands of Afghan troops, Taliban insurgents and Afghan civilians.
(With PTI inputs.)