“The president made his decision, which is consistent with his view that this was not a winnable war, to bring the U.S. troops home after 20 years of fighting this war,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Friday. “A big part of that decision was also around the fact that if we left our troops there, our troops would be at risk of the Taliban shooting them by May 1.”
Finally, American intelligence officials told Mr. Biden that the threat Al Qaeda and the Islamic State posed to the United States homeland had been greatly diminished — and was likely to take at least two years to reconstitute.
To keep that threat in check, the Pentagon already has stationed armed MQ-9 Reaper drones at bases in the Persian Gulf to keep watch. But finding hostile targets on the ground will be much more difficult without Afghan government troops and spies to help identify them, and the risk of accidental civilian casualties from American airstrikes will increase, commanders warn.
The Biden administration has assured Mr. Ghani with financial support, including $266 million in humanitarian aid and $3.3 billion in security assistance, as well as three million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and oxygen supplies. In Afghanistan, efforts to address a third wave of the coronavirus have been hampered by fighting in the area.
A small embassy security force will also stay behind in Afghanistan.
The administration will also soon begin relocating “a group of interpreters and translators, as well as other at risk categories who have assisted us,” Ms. Psaki said on Friday. She later confirmed in a statement that those who were in the pipeline for visas but had already fled Afghanistan for fear of retaliation would still be eligible.
But the White House is bracing for a long, difficult summer.
“You don’t fight and die with your Afghan partners for 20 years and then just pull the rug out from under them,” said Lisa Curtis, the senior director for South and Central Asia at the National Security Council under the Trump administration. “Everyone understands the need to withdraw our troops but there’s also a need to do it responsibly and in a way that gives the Afghans a fighting chance.”
Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Kabul, Afghanistan. Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting from Washington.