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The Afghanistan pullout: One year later


WORLD Radio - The Afghanistan pullout: One year later

A timeline of events leading up to the troop withdrawal

Foreigners board a Qatar Airways aircraft at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021 Associated Press Photo/Bernat Armangue

MARY REICAHRD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, August 30th. We’re glad you’ve turned to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the American troop pullout from Afghanistan—one year ago today.

The debate is still going on over whether the action marks victory or defeat for U.S. foreign policy.

REICHARD: To mark the anniversary, WORLD’s Paul Butler has prepared a timeline of events that led up to last August’s pullout after 20 years.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: On October 7th, 2001, the United States launches Operation Enduring Freedom. It’s in response to Afghanistan’s refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden after the September 11th attacks.

GEORGE W. BUSH: On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against al-Qaida terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan…

Within two months the US and its Allies drive the Taliban from power. But the conflict is far from over. The operation drags on for more than a decade.

On May 27th, 2014, US President Barack Obama announces a plan for full troop withdrawal by the end of 2016.

VIDEO OBAMA: This year, we will bring America’s longest war to a responsible end. We will no longer patrol Afghan cities or towns, mountains or valleys. That is a task for the Afghan people.

Seven months later, Obama officially ends Operation Enduring Freedom:

OBAMA: And in less than two weeks, after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over. Today, more of our troops are home for the holidays than any time in over a decade.

But in the end, President Obama has to admit that his campaign promise of pulling the US out of Afghanistan by the end of his term just isn’t possible.

VIDEO OBAMA: I strongly believe that it is in our national security interest, especially after all the blood and treasure we’ve invested in Afghanistan over the years, that we give our Afghan partners the very best opportunity to succeed …

In February, 2019, the Trump administration agrees to preliminary terms for withdrawal from Afghanistan by May 2021. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from the Senate Floor.

MITCH MCCONNELL: I know that a broad consensus of America's leadership in the world exists in this body. It is time to reaffirm our commitment to the vision, and to the men and women fighting on the ground, to uphold it.

Seven months later, President Trump calls off the peace talks after a Taliban attack kills a US soldier.

VIDEO TRUMP: When I heard very simply that they killed one of our soldiers and 12 other innocent people. I said there’s no way I’m meeting on that basis. There’s no way I’m meeting. And the government is going to have to take responsibility or do whatever it is they do. I’ve been saying from the campaign that yeah, we’d like to get out. But we’ll get out at the right time.

During the 2020 Presidential campaign, former Vice President Joe Biden maintains that the conflict in Afghanistan has to come to an end—promising to make that a top priority if elected.

VIDEO BIDEN: It’s long past time we end the forever wars which have cost us untold blood and treasure.

Three months after taking office, President Biden announces the pullout of American forces in Afghanistan—beginning May 1st, 2021. He promises complete withdraw by the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks:

BIDEN: The war in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational undertaking. We were attacked. We went to war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives. Bin Laden is dead, and Al Qaeda is degraded in Afghanistan, and it’s time to end the forever war.

True to his promise, US troops begin pulling out on May 1st. Over the next few months the Taliban become more and more brazen—making strong gains across the country:

PBS NEWS HOUR: Since the U.S. announced its withdrawal nine weeks ago, a senior Afghan official tells "PBS NewsHour" the Taliban have seized 40 districts all over the country. In total, the Taliban control more than 120 districts, and are fighting over an additional 180 districts.

July 2nd, 2021—US and NATO troops withdraw from Bagram Air Base—the main military base about an hour from Kabul. The Afghan military doesn’t find out till two hours. It is a sign of what’s to come.

GENERAL MIR ASADULLAH KOHISTANI: After we see some rumors that the Americans left the Bagram, we increased our intelligence report and finally by seven o’clock [in the] morning, it was confirmed that they already left the Bagram.

Less than a month before the Biden administration’s September 11th deadline, US embassy personnel lower the Stars and Stripes and flee the country. On the same day, the Taliban take control of Kabul—much faster than most analysts predicted.


For the next three weeks, the US military and its allies evacuate tens of thousands of Afghans & Americans through the Kabul airport.


On August 26th, 2021, more than 160 people are killed in a suicide bombing—including 13 American soldiers. It is the deadliest strike on US forces in a decade.

BIDEN: We will not forgive, we will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.

Over the next four days, the situation is often chaotic and heartbreaking. Images of Afghans clinging to the exterior of an American transport plane as it takes off illustrate the stark reality for many who are left behind.

The last plane takes off August 30th, 2021. The US withdrawal is officially finished.

GENERAL FRANK MCKENZIE: I’m here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of the military mission to evacuate American citizens, third country nationals, and vulnerable Afghans.

The next day, the Taliban declare victory.


Over the two decades at least 2,300 U.S. servicemen die in the conflict. More than $800 billion is poured into Afghanistan’s economy, military, and infrastructure. Thousands of Afghan allies remain in the country awaiting rescue.

BIDEN: I know my decision will be criticized, but I would rather take all that criticism than pass this decision onto another President of the United States. Because it’s the right one, it’s the right decision for our people. The right one for our brave service members who have risked their lives serving our nation. And it’s the right one for America. Thank you. May God protect our troops, our diplomats, and all brave Americans serving in harm’s way.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Paul Butler.

EICHER: Special thanks to our WORLD Radio Intern Anna Mandin for her research and production help on this story. And be sure to join us tomorrow for a first hand account of last year’s evacuation.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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