President Joe Biden will withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that precipitated the American invasion that ousted the country’s Taliban leadership, according to people familiar with the plan. American forces, in conjunction with troops from NATO allies, will begin withdrawing before the end of this month, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on Tuesday. The September deadline isn’t “conditions-based” and could be completed early, the official added. After a review of U.S. policy that Biden ordered after taking office, the administration concluded it could address any terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan from elsewhere. The official also said the U.S. will work with other countries to protect gains made by women in the country, a major issue given that the Taliban largely barred women from education and employment when they were in power. The new deadline means Biden will leave a few thousand troops in the war-torn country beyond a May 1 target set in an agreement between the Trump administration and the Taliban last year. Biden had signaled that he viewed that original deadline as a “tough” one to meet given continuing violence in the country and a lack of progress in peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The only U.S. forces remaining in the country will be to protect U.S. diplomats in Afghanistan, but the administration still hasn’t decided on the size and scope of its diplomatic presence — or the accompanying military footprint — the official said. The president’s decision, which he’s expected to announce on Wednesday, came after his administration undertook a review of U.S. options in Afghanistan in consultation with allies from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization also operating in the region. There are currently more than 2,500 U.S. troops in the country, working alongside about 7,000 allied forces. In delaying the troop removal, Biden risks Taliban-led retaliation for breaking the cease-fire agreement struck during the Trump administration, and political fallout from an American public weary from the two-decade long war. But military and diplomatic leaders had warned a rushed withdrawal could destabilize the country, leaving allied troops at risk and risking a resurgence of terrorist groups. The U.S. has warned the Taliban that it will respond with force if departing soldiers are attacked, and the Biden administration plans to ramp up humanitarian assistance and support for civil society as troops leave the country, the U.S. official said.
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