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16 August 2021updated 12 Sep 2021 1:37pm

Withdrawal timeline: Who is responsible for the chaos in Afghanistan?

After the fall of Kabul, many across the United States are trying to piece together what went wrong.

By Harry Clarke-Ezzidio

A few weeks before the final US troops were due to leave Afghanistan after nearly two decades of war, the Taliban regained power over the country, after seizing control of the capital Kabul on Sunday 15 August.

After Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani reportedly fled abroad and the government collapsed, Taliban fighters took control of the empty presidential palace. The Taliban’s advance has drastically intensified over the last few weeks, with Kabul the last major city to fall.

The withdrawal of US soldiers from Afghanistan was due to be completed by 31 August. American forces first entered the country in October 2001 in response to the 9/11 terrorist attack that took place that year.

Since the US-led invasion began, 2,448 US military personnel and at least 47,245 Afghan civilians have died. The ensuing war has cost an estimated $2trn and spanned four US presidential administrations.

Withdrawal timeline: How Kabul fell

  • 22 June 2011: One month after Osama bin Laden is killed by US Navy Seals, US President Barack Obama announces that troops will start to withdraw from Afghanistan.
  • 27 May 2014: Obama announces plans for a full withdrawal of troops by the end of 2016.
  • 21 August 2017: Despite campaigning on the promise to withdraw US soldiers from Afghanistan, President Donald Trump warns that a “hasty withdraw would create a vacuum that terrorists… would instantly fill”.
  • 7 September 2019: Trump cancels US-Taliban peace talks after the group claimed responsibility for a car bomb that killed an American soldier.
  • 29 February 2020: Trump announces a signed peace deal between the US and Nato allies and the Taliban. Under the deal, all foreign troops will withdraw from the region as long as the Taliban abides by its commitment to a “reduction of violence”. 
  • 17 November 2020: In the final days of the Trump administration, the Pentagon announces plans to reduce troop numbers in Afghanistan from 4,500 to below 2,500, which will be completed by January 2021.
  • 14 April 2021: US President Joe Biden announces that all troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by 11 September, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
  • 4 May 2021: The Taliban launches its first major offensive on the Afghan military in the Helmand province. It also attacks a number of nearby provinces.
  • 2 July 2021: The US quietly withdraws soldiers from Bagram Air Base, which was their main military base throughout the war.
  • 13 August 2021: Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, falls to the Taliban.
  • 14 August 2021: US President Joe Biden puts out a statement confirming the deployment of approximately 5,000 US troops to help with the evacuation from Afghanistan. He also reaffirms his desire to leave the region: “One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country. And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me.”
  • 15 August 2021: Kabul is seized by the Taliban. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani leaves the country. The US embassy is evacuated.

What does the fall of Kabul mean for Joe Biden’s presidency?

Donald Trump, the former US president, has called for President Joe Biden to “resign in disgrace” over the events of recent days. “What Joe Biden has done with Afghanistan is legendary,” he said. “It will go down as one of the greatest defeats in American history!”

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On the presidential campaign trail in February 2020, Biden downplayed assertions that America should “police” other nations. During an interview with Margaret Brennan on CBS, Biden said: “Are you telling me that we should go to war with China because what they’re doing to the Uyghurs, a million Uyghurs, in concentration camps?” he said.

Emily Tamkin, the New Statesman‘s US editor, suggests that it was flippant of Biden to dismiss America’s influence in Afghanistan. Tamkin adds, however, that “it’s likely that Biden’s Afghan withdrawal will merely be submerged into the deep history of American betrayal and error, [then] quietly forgotten”.

[See also: Joe Biden needlessly abandoned the Afghan people – and Britain stood idly by]

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