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US, NATO Ending Afghanistan Military Mission

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NATO Allies have decided to end the two-decade-old U.S.-led military mission in Afghanistan. The decision was announced at a joint press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin in Brussels on Wednesday.

On the same day, U.S. President Joe Biden officially announced the drawdown of all 2,500 U.S. troops in the war-ravaged country. The U.S. troop withdrawal will begin on May 1, and conclude by September 11, the day 20 years ago the United States started its military operations in Afghanistan. It also marks the 20th anniversary of the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on American soil.

In 2001, NATO allies had invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty for the only time in the alliance's history and started the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. Around 9600 forces from the allied nations were deployed to the south-west Asian country with the objectives of confronting al-Qaeda and those who attacked the United States on 9/11, and to prevent terrorists from using Afghanistan as a safe haven to attack western countries. "In the ensuing decades through the investment of blood and treasure, and in partnership with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and its security forces, we have worked together to achieve these goals," the North Atlantic Council Ministerial said in a statement issued after a virtual meeting of NATO foreign and defense ministers.

Allies have agreed to start the withdrawal of forces by May 1 and complete it within a few months. This drawdown will be "orderly, coordinated, and deliberate". NATO, the world's strongest military alliance, made it clear that any Taliban attacks on its troops during the withdrawal will be met with "a forceful response".

Stoltenberg called the move "the start of a new chapter" in NATO's relationship with Afghanistan, saying "Allies and partners will continue to stand with the Afghan people, but it is now for the Afghan people to build a sustainable peace".

Speaking from the White House room where U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan were first declared in 2001, Joe Biden said, "It is time to end America's longest war. It's time for American troops to come home".

Laying the path for the way forward in Afghanistan in an address to the nation, the President noted that only the citizens of Afghanistan have the right and responsibility to lead their country.

Biden said the war in Afghanistan was never meant to be multi-generational. The United States met its objective 10 years ago with the assassination of Taliban leader Osama bin Laden, according to him. "Our reasons for staying have become increasingly unclear" since then, he added.

"With the terror threat now in many places, keeping thousands of troops grounded and concentrated in just one country and across the billions (of dollars spent) each year makes little sense to me and to our leaders," Biden said. "We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan — hoping to create ideal conditions for the withdrawal and expecting a different result."

As the fourth U.S. president with the Afghanistan war on his watch, Biden said he would not pass the longest war in American history on to another president. He noted that he inherited the draw-down deadline of this year and he intends to keep the U.S. agreement with the Taliban, which was formulated during the former administration.

The challenges the United States must focus on are in front of us, Biden said. "We have to track and disrupt terrorist networks and operations that spread far beyond Afghanistan since 9/11. We have to shore up American competitiveness to meet the stiff competition we're facing, including from an increasingly assertive China", Biden added.

The longest war by United States abroad has cost it trillions of dollars and the lives of more than 2,000 soldiers.

Negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban are ongoing, while the Afghan government often left on the sidelines, with no breakthrough achieved on any peace deal.

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