US troops likely not out of Afghanistan by May, but ‘can’t picture’ them there in 2022

President Joe Biden on Thursday said he “can’t picture” having U.S. troops in Afghanistan next year, but added that meeting a May 1 deadline for withdrawing those troops is likely not going to happen.

“For tactical reasons, it’s going to be hard to get those troops out,” the commander in chief said during a news conference at the White House in response to a question about U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. “If we leave, we’re going to do so in a safe and orderly way.”

About 2,500 American troops are still stationed in the country, where U.S. forces have been engaged in fighting with terrorist groups for nearly 20 years. Troop totals have dropped significantly in the last 18 months after former President Donald Trump pushed to completely end U.S. involvement in the war-torn country.

U.S. service members secure the perimeter at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan in support of Operation Resolute Support on March 17, 2020. (Staff Sgt. Joel Pfiester/Air Force)

Under a peace deal negotiated by the Trump administration, all U.S. troops are scheduled to leave by May 1. But officials in the Biden administration have cast doubt on that timeline in recent weeks.

Biden did not completely dismiss the possibility of meeting the looming deadline, but said he is focused now on reviewing that deal and working with his security experts on the best path forward.

“There is a United Nations process beginning shortly on how to end this war. It is not my intention to stay there for a long time,” he said. “But the question is, how and in what circumstances can we meet that agreement that was made by President Trump?”

Pressed whether U.S. troops could still be stationed in Afghanistan in 2022, Biden responded that “I can’t picture that being the case.”

Coalition forces provide security while an American Apache helicopter flies overhead in an attempt to locate insurgents who reportedly placed a roadside bomb in Shinkay district of Zabul province in Afghanistan on April 22. 2020. (Sgt. Debra Richardson/Army)

Last week, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction in congressional testimony warned that despite billions spent on fortifying local security forces in the war-torn Asian country, “Afghan security forces are nowhere near achieving self-sufficiency, as they cannot maintain their equipment, manage their supply chains or train new soldiers, pilots and policemen.”

Officials also noted that there is little evidence in recent months that the Taliban fighters are prepared to lay down their arms and take up diplomatic posts with the new government, which was supposed to be a key part of the peace deal and May 1 withdrawal.

Biden said he is consulting closely with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on plans for the region.

Since the start of the military conflict in 2001, 2,352 American service members have died in combat deployments to Afghanistan, and more than 20,000 have been wounded.

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