President Joe Biden speaks during a ceremony to honour slain U.S. Capitol Police officer William “Billy” Evans as he lies in honor at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. Biden is to start the clock today on the long-awaited withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/J. Scott Applewhite

President Joe Biden speaks during a ceremony to honour slain U.S. Capitol Police officer William “Billy” Evans as he lies in honor at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. Biden is to start the clock today on the long-awaited withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/J. Scott Applewhite

Biden’s planned U.S. pullout from Afghanistan to use Sept. 11 anniversary as deadline

Canada was among those allies and partners almost from the outset, with its 12-year presence

President Joe Biden started the clock Wednesday on the long-awaited, long-promised withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, setting the 20th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as the deadline for ending “America’s longest war.”

From a podium in the White House Treaty Room, where former president George W. Bush launched the so-called war on terror, Biden essentially described a continued U.S. military presence as an exercise in futility.

“Our allies and partners have stood beside us, shoulder to shoulder, in Afghanistan for almost 20 years,” the president said as he announced the pullout would begin May 1 — predecessor Donald Trump’s deadline for his own withdrawal.

“We’re deeply grateful for the contributions they have made to our shared mission and for the sacrifices they have borne.”

Canada was among those allies and partners almost from the outset, with its 12-year presence — including 10 on the front lines of combat — costing the lives of some 159 Canadian troops.

Four civilians also died in Afghanistan, including Calgary Herald journalist Michelle Lang, as well as one diplomat: Glyn Berry, who was among the three people killed by a roadside bomb in January 2006.

In Canada, much of the mission has largely faded from the collective memory, admitted Bruce Moncur, who was on the ground for some of the most vicious Canadian fighting in the Panjwaii district at the height of the conflict in 2006.

“In trying so hard not to have another Vietnam, they created another Vietnam,” Moncur said in an interview. “They just didn’t learn.”

Moncur sustained brain damage during Operation Medusa when a pair of U.S. A-10 Thunderbolts, known as Warthogs, mistakenly unleashed their fearsome 30-mm cannons on a contingent of Canadian soldiers.

The husband of NDP MP Niki Ashton, he has since become an outspoken advocate for Canadian veterans of the war, producing YouTube documentaries about their exploits and lobbying for better treatment at the hands of the federal government.

Now studying in Manitoba to be a teacher, Moncur said some of the kids in his classes weren’t born until 2006, five years after the events in New York and Washington, D.C., that triggered 20 years of bloody Middle East conflict.

And while the sacrifices of Canadians in Afghanistan may have helped advance foreign-policy interests and ties with the U.S., he said, the mission’s lofty developmental goals — instilling democratic values and more rights for Afghan women, for instance — have largely gone wanting.

“We had 20 years to do it,” he said ruefully. “Twenty years is a long time.”

Biden’s decision — which Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed Tuesday with Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau — triggered a matching move from NATO.

The alliance has agreed to withdraw its roughly 7,000 troops starting May 1, although NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg didn’t commit to completing the effort in time for Sept. 11.

“We went into Afghanistan together, we have adjusted our posture together and we are united in leaving together,” Stoltenberg said.

While Canada completed its own pullout in 2014, some 9,600 NATO soldiers remain in Afghanistan, about 2,500 of them members of the American contingent.

Many will argue, Biden acknowledged, that a diplomatic solution to the challenges in Afghanistan cannot succeed without American troops there to backstop the effort.

“We gave that argument a decade. It’s never proved effective,” he said.

“Our diplomacy does not hinge on having boots in harm’s way, U.S. boots on the ground. We have to change that thinking.”

A decade-long effort to capture and kill al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden finally succeeded in Pakistan in 2011, and since then, the rationale for remaining in Afghanistan has only grown more murky, he said.

And the terrorist threat once so concentrated in the desolate Panjwaii plains and the caves beneath the Hindu Kush mountains has been “metastasizing around the globe” ever since.

“With the terror threat now in many places, keeping thousands of troops grounded and concentrated in just one country, at a cost of billions each year, makes little sense to me and other 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.”

Following the announcement, Biden paid a visit to Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, where the bulk of America’s most recent war dead from Afghanistan and Iraq are buried.

He wandered among the meticulous rows of modest white marble headstones, pausing occasionally to study a name, at times dabbing at his eyes.

“I have trouble these days ever showing up at a veteran’s cemetery and not thinking of my son, Beau,” he said. Beau Biden served in Iraq as a member of the U.S. Army JAG Corps in 2009 before his death from brain cancer in 2015.

“He thought it was the right thing to do,” Biden said, before looking around and adding, “Look at them all.”

— With files from The Associated Press

James McCarten, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

USA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Robert’s column
Robert Barron column: Cameras on school buses a good idea

“I’ve seen kids have to run from cars”

Trying out a corn variety called “Midnight Snack, grown near Cache Creek, as well as my saved Bantam/Sunnyvee Cross (Mary Lowther photo)
Mary Lowther column: Early sowing gets a jump on corn season

‘I’m planting three batches of corn, two weeks apart for a steady supply’

North Cowichan considers extending tax payment deadline by two months. (File photo)
North Cowichan considers extending deadline for property tax payments

A two-month deadline extension to Sept. 1 gets three readings

John Horn is leaving his position as executive director of the Cowichan Housing Association. (File photo)
John Horn leaving Cowichan Housing Association

Will take on role as executive director of John Howard Society in Nanaimo

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

A map showing where the most number of cases were recorded from April 23 to 29. This map, revealing a breakdown of infections by neighborhood, was pulled from a data package leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week (and independently verified).
36 Abbotsford schools flagged for COVID-19 exposures in the last 2 weeks, shattering record

Clearbrook Elementary recorded an ‘exposure’ on all 11 school days

Island Health has confirmed COVID-19 exposures at Ecole des Deux Mondes in Campbell River on May 4 and 5, and at Mill Bay Nature School in Mill Bay on April 28, 29, 30 and May 3. (Metro Creative photo)
Two new COVID-19 school exposures confirmed by Island Health

Health authority contacting anyone exposed at Ecole des Deux Mondes, Mill Bay Nature School

Canada’s chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Post-inoculation, Theresa Tam says the risk of asymptomatic infection and transmission is far lower but not obsolete

The dash cam footage, taken May 7 at 8:18 a.m. belonged to the driver of a southbound vehicle that recently travelled out of the tunnel. (Reddit/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Dash cam captures dramatic rollover crash on Highway 99

Only one person sustained injuries from the collision, says B.C. Ambulance Services

Chevy stranded on a ledge above a rocky canyon at Mimi Falls near Logan Lake, April 28, 2021. (Photo credit: Margot Wikjord)
Police officer and fire chief team up in risky rescue of stranded dog near Logan Lake

Chevy, a rescue dog, needed rescuing again after getting stuck on a ledge above rocky canyon

Police were on the scene of a fatal shooting in Abbotsford. (Black Press Media files)
B.C. government to give more than $8 million for programs to curb gang violence

221 not-for-profit projects led by local governments and school districts among others will receive a one-time grant

Gord Judson steers his log truck down a forest service road, using two-way radio and call signals to mark his position for oncoming traffic. (B.C. Forest Safety Council)
Planning some B.C. wilderness fishing? Don’t catch a log truck

Remote recreation areas bracing for heavy pandemic pressure

Most Read