President Joe Biden is about to announce his plans to withdraw remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan, declaring that the Sept. 11 attacks “cannot explain” why American forces should still be there 20 years after the deadliest terror assault on the United States.
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His plan is to pull out all the American forces – numbering 2,500 now – by this Sept. 11, according to U.S. officials. That is the anniversary of the attacks, which were coordinated from Afghanistan.
The decision marks perhaps the most significant foreign policy decision for Biden in the early going of his presidency.
The president asked for a review that was not “sugar-coated,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday before Biden spoke. She said part of the assessment provided to the president was that the terrorist threat has “changed,” adding “we can’t look at things through the 2001 mindset.”
Biden has long been skeptical about the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. As Barack Obama’s vice president, Biden was a lonely voice in the administration who advised the 44th president to tilt towards a smaller counterterrorism role in the country while military advisers were urging a troop buildup to counter Taliban gains.
Biden has also made clear he wants to recalibrate U.S. foreign policy to face bigger challenges posed by China and Russia.
Withdrawing all U.S. troops comes with clear risks. It could boost the Taliban’s effort to claw back power and undo gains toward democracy and women’s rights made over the past two decades. It also opens Biden to criticism, mostly Republicans and some Democrats, even though former President Donald Trump had also wanted a full withdrawal.
Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress is set for April 28 and will unfold against the backdrop of heightened security in the aftermath of the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot and ongoing coronavirus protocols.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi extended the invitation to Biden late Tuesday.
Psaki said the president is excited to accept the invitation and has been “eager to do since he was inaugurated.”
The speech will come just before Biden’s 100th day in office and will provide him an opportunity to update the American public on his progress toward fulfilling his promises. It will also give him a chance to make the case for the $2.3 trillion infrastructure package he unveiled recently, which the House is aiming to pass by July 4.
Presidents don’t deliver a State of the Union address to Congress until their second year in office.