(CNSNews.com) – President Biden’s decision to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by September 11 – a move that will not be conditions-based – brought strong, but mixed reactions Tuesday from prominent lawmakers, and not strictly along party lines.
Biden is due to formally announce the plan on Wednesday, but a senior administration official briefing on background said drawdowns would begin in the coming weeks and be completed by September 11 at the latest.
That timetable compares to a conditional May 1 deadline set by the previous administration under a Feb. 2020 agreement with the Taliban – an agreement the terrorist group is widely viewed to have flouted by failing to sever its links with al-Qaeda.
“This is not conditions-based,” the official said of Biden’s program. “The president has judged that a conditions-based approach, which has been the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever.”
The approximately 2,500 U.S. troops will not be the only ones to leave. In line with the principle of “in together, out together,” some 7,000 troops from NATO and other partner countries will also withdraw by the target date. Germany, Italy, Britain, and Georgia currently account for the largest contingents.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell led Republican criticism of the plan.
“There is no reason to believe the Taliban will abandon al-Qaeda if we leave,” he said on the Senate floor. “We know we cannot conduct effective counterterrorism operations without presence and partners on the ground. Foreign terrorists will not leave the United States alone simply because our politicians have grown tired of taking the fight to them.”
“The president needs to explain to the American people why he thinks abandoning our partners and retreating in the face of the Taliban will make America safer.”
Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) urged Biden to reconsider, saying that the target date of September 11 – the 20th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s attack on America – indicated the decision was a political one.
“No one wants a forever war, but I’ve consistently said any withdrawal must be conditions-based,” he said.
House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaul (R-Texas) noted that the plan does not provide for “a residual force to address the counterterrorism threats emanating from Afghanistan,” a point also made by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
The senior administration official said Biden’s plan would entail “retaining significant assets in the region to counter the potential reemergence of a terrorist threat to the homeland from Afghanistan, and to hold the Taliban to its commitment to ensure al-Qaeda does not once again threaten the United States or our interests or our allies.”
While campaigning for the White House, Biden suggested that he would look to Pakistan to provide bases for the U.S. to use to ensure terrorists never again attack the homeland from Afghanistan. Pakistan’s military has a long history of collusion with the Taliban and other terrorists in Afghanistan.
Some Republicans welcomed the news, with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) saying he was “glad the troops are coming home,” adding that the U.S. can protect the lives of Americans and their allies “without a permanent military presence in a hostile terrain.”
“President Biden should withdraw troops in Afghanistan by May 1, as the Trump administration planned, but better late than never,” tweeted Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). “It’s time for this forever war to end.”
‘Following progressives’ calls’
Among Democrats, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said it was great to see Biden “following progressives’ calls to withdraw troops from Afghanistan,” while her fellow Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) agreed, tweeting, “We must continue investing in peace & diplomacy – rather than war.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who in January introduced a bill seeking to repeal the authorization for the use of military force against those who “planned, authorized, committed or aided” al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attack, hailed what she called “incredibly encouraging news.”
But Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said she was “very disappointed in the president’s decision to set a September deadline to walk away from Afghanistan,” saying the move “undermines our commitment to the Afghan people, particularly Afghan women.”
The administration official said the U.S. “will use its full diplomatic, humanitarian, and economic toolkit to try to – as best we can – to protect the gains made by women and girls over the course of the past 20 years.”
Before U.S. forces toppled the Taliban regime after 9/11, the fundamentalist militia implemented strict shari’a, prohibited education for women and girls, enforced strict dress codes, and prohibited women from working outside the home in most circumstances. The State Department noted in a human rights report in 2000 that Afghan women under the Taliban were “subjected to rape, kidnapping, and forced marriage.”
In a commentary on Sunday, the Taliban looked ahead to its vision of a future Afghanistan, and said that “democracy must not be put forth as an infallible solution to all problems.”
“Why must a system with foreign roots be forcefully implemented in Afghanistan when Afghans possess a superior model of governance?” it asked, adding that all past attempts to enforce “non-Islamic forms of governance” had proven unsuccessful.
There was no immediate reaction from the Taliban to the withdrawal timetable news, although when Biden said last month that a May 1 deadline would be “hard to meet” the group warned that it would resume attacks on U.S. forces if they remained after that date.