President Joe Biden predicted that America’s longest-running war will end by next year at a Thursday press conference, saying he does not think there will be U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2022.
“It is not my intention to stay there for a long time,” Biden said. “We will leave. The question is when we leave.”
Asked if he believes American forces will be in the country next year, he said, “I can’t picture that being the case.”
There are currently 3,500 American troops in Afghanistan, as well as 7,000 troops from American allies like members of the NATO alliance. Those forces are supporting the pro-U.S. government in Kabul against the Taliban, the Afghan extremist movement that Washington began fighting in 2001 over its support for Al Qaeda, and other terror groups like a local branch of the Islamic State.
Biden and other politicians from both parties have promised to end the war, which has killed more than 2,000 U.S. troops and more than 100,000 Afghan civilians. Last year, former President Donald Trump cut a deal with the Taliban that committed the U.S. to withdrawing its forces by May 1, 2021 ― a promise Biden said the U.S. may not be able to meet.
“It’s going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline,” Biden said on Thursday, citing “tactical” concerns about troop movements.
Biden did not commit to an exact timeline, but the troop drawdown is in the works. The Pentagon has already slashed the number of troops in Afghanistan down from 12,000 around this time last year. His team will announce its final plans in the coming days and is expected to declare a six-month extension of the U.S. presence, setting Nov. 1 as the new withdrawal date.
Biden administration officials say Trump’s agreement was flawed and outside experts believe the Taliban will aggressively move against the Afghan government without an additional agreement between the two, producing more violence and possibly entangling the U.S. in the conflict again.
Biden pointed to a United Nations effort in April to forge an intra-Afghan peace deal.
“If we leave, we’re going to do so in a safe and orderly way,” the president said.
Despite Biden’s talk of ending the controversial foreign deployments that his team calls “the forever wars,” he and his aides have repeatedly signaled that they believe the U.S. should maintain an assertive counter-terror effort globally, including in Afghanistan. That means his withdrawal likely will not mean the end of Americans fighting in the country ― and possibly dying there.
Anti-war lawmakers and activists say that while Biden may pull out of Afghanistan to a large extent, they will closely track how deeply he remains involved there.
Past presidents, from Trump to President Barack Obama, have also talked about ending the Afghan war early in their tenure, only to ultimately see it drag on.