President Biden has spent months weighing his decision and determined a war in Afghanistan that killed some 2,300 troops and cost more than $2 trillion no longer fit within the pressing foreign policy concerns of 2021.
Deliberations stretched longer than some US officials expected, even as Biden signaled repeatedly that a May 1 deadline was near-impossible to meet. Officials involved in the process interpreted the lengthy timeline as a sign of Biden’s genuine anguish about a path forward, sources said. Biden, meanwhile, made clear he didn’t want to be rushed.
Biden has been thinking about this issue for nearly as long as the war itself, having traveled to the region as a leader on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as an internal advocate — at first ignored — of drawing down troops during the Obama administration.
On the day in 2001 that Bush addressed the nation from the Treaty Room, Biden appeared on CNN a few hours later from his home in Wilmington. Then the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden told Larry King he believed the Taliban would be quickly defeated.
“There is no doubt in my mind the Taliban is done and the American people are going to learn about that and the world is going to learn about that in a matter of weeks, I predict,” he said in the interview — a projection that, 20 years later, appears misguided as his administration works to urge peace talks between the Taliban, which control large swaths of Afghanistan, and the Afghan government.
Still, in the interview, Biden acknowledged the lengthy road ahead — even though he could not have imagined he would be the president two decades later deciding to pull troops out.
“The hard part is going to be putting it together,” he said then. “The easiest part is going to be taking it down.”
Over the ensuing decades, Biden would travel to Afghanistan as part of congressional delegations and grill military leaders appearing before his committee.
By the time he became vice president, Biden had adopted a skeptical view toward a continued large presence in the country. Some confidants attributed that to worsening conditions and the growing intractability of the political situation; others said his son Beau’s deployment to Iraq as a member of the Delaware Army National Guard lent him new insight into the sacrifices of military families.
At one point in 2009, he hand-wrote a memo to then-President Obama arguing for a troop withdrawal and faxed it to the White House from his Thanksgiving vacation on Nantucket.
He made various attempts to argue his case to Obama, who chose instead to surge troops before eventually pulling many of them out.