The U.S. military drawdown in Afghanistan has continued into July, with all signs pointing to a full exit by Sept. 11, 2021, as President Joe Biden has pledged.
The United States has been in Afghanistan militarily since the 9/11 attacks almost 20 years ago.
"We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build," Biden said on July 8. "And it's the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country."
Biden added that "the status quo was not an option. Staying would have meant U.S. troops taking casualties, American men and women back in the middle of a civil war. And we would have run the risk of having to send more troops back into Afghanistan to defend our remaining troops."
Under President Donald Trump, the United States and the Taliban agreed to a May 1, 2021, U.S. withdrawal deadline, with the Taliban pledging to stop attacks on foreign forces and to enter negotiations with the Afghan government.
Biden announced on April 14 that the U.S. military would exit the country, which triggered a series of developments to meet that deadline.
• The military left Bagram Air Base, its last base in Afghanistan, on July 2. It was undertaken in the middle of the night, which was for security reasons, the military said.
• Biden delivered a speech from the White House on July 8 billed as addressing "the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan."
"When I announced our drawdown in April, I said we would be out by September, and we're on track to meet that target," Biden said. "Our military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on Aug. 31. The drawdown is proceeding in a secure and orderly way, prioritizing the safety of our troops as they depart."
• The top U.S. general in Afghanistan, Austin S. Miller, stepped down after three years in his position.
The accelerating U.S. departure has bolstered the military position of the Taliban, the hard-line Islamic group that wants a major role in the country's future. As of July 10, the Taliban effectively controlled 215 districts in Afghanistan, compared to 73 controlled by the government and 119 that are contested, according to data from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Backers of a continued U.S. military presence worry that the Afghan government could fall under Taliban pressure, derailing the ongoing, but stalled, negotiations over the country's political future.
In his speech, Biden rejected the idea that a Taliban military takeover was inevitable, saying Afghanistan has "300,000 well-equipped (troops) — as well-equipped as any army in the world — and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable."
Experts said that Biden has decided to stick to his campaign promise due to public opinion back home.
A Morning Consult survey taken after Biden's April announcement found 69% support for withdrawing all U.S. ground troops from Afghanistan by September. A May poll from Quinnipiac found 62% approving of Biden's withdrawal plans, with just 29% opposed.
"The American people's continued support for withdrawal, including a number of veterans groups, appears to have had much more of an impact than the worsening security situation inside of Afghanistan," said the Atlantic Council's Christopher Preble. "Most Americans recognized some time ago that the war there was not advancing core U.S. security interests."
For now, "the withdrawal is over 90% complete," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told Politico. The elements that remain on the ground, according to news reports, are about 650 troops defending the U.S. embassy in Kabul and Hamid Karzai International Airport, and about 250 contractors working with the Afghan air force.
It's worth noting that experts expect that a covert U.S. presence will remain even after other military assets depart. "I seriously doubt that we will end CIA covert operations in Afghanistan or elsewhere," said C. Christine Fair, a professor of security studies at Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.
However, the officially acknowledged elements of the United States' military drawdown have continued, with an end in sight by September. We continue to rate this promise In the Works.