"It's time to end the forever war."
President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he will begin withdrawing the last U.S. troops from Afghanistan on May 1 to end America's longest war, rejecting calls for U.S. forces to stay to ensure a peaceful resolution to that nation's grinding internal conflict.
In a White House speech, Biden set a deadline for withdrawing all 2,500 U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan by Sept. 11, exactly 20 years after al Qaeda's attacks on the United States.
"It was never meant to be a multi-generational undertaking. We were attacked. We went to war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives. I said, along with others, that we'd follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell if need be. That's exactly what we did... That was 10 years ago."
The Democratic president had faced a May 1 withdrawal deadline, set by his Republican predecessor Donald Trump, who tried but failed to pull the troops out before leaving office in January.
But by pulling out without a clear victory, the United States opens itself to criticism that a withdrawal represents a de facto admission of failure for American military strategy.
One such critic is Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.
"The result of this decision today by President Biden is to cancel an insurance policy that, in my view, would prevent another 9/11."
Foreign troops under NATO command will also withdraw from Afghanistan in coordination with the U.S.
Meeting in Brussels with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said it would now be up to Afghanistan to secure peace.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wrote on Twitter that he spoke with Biden and respects the U.S. decision.
Successive U.S. presidents sought to extricate themselves from Afghanistan, but those hopes were complicated by concerns about Afghan security forces, endemic corruption in Afghanistan and the resiliency of the Taliban.
But Biden made clear Wednesday it would end with him.
"I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth."