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

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
A judge has found an Edmonton woman guilty of manslaughter in the death of her five-year-old daughter. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton mother found guilty of manslaughter in death of 5-year-old girl

The woman was charged and pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and assault with weapons, including a belt and a spatula

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Alberta identifies 2,042 new COVID-19 cases Saturday

Central zone has 2,917 active cases

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Jason Kenney urges federal government to push U.S. for surplus COVID-19 vaccines

‘It makes no sense for our neighbours and regional states to be sitting on doses that we cannot use,’ the premier said

Alberta reported an additional 1,980 cases of COVID-19 Friday. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Red Deer adds 37th death from COVID-19, active cases drop

Alberta Health identified an additional 1,980 cases of the virus province-wide

FILE - In this March 3, 2021, file photo, a vial of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is displayed at South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine can be given to adults 30+ who can’t wait for mRNA: NACI

Panel says single shot vaccine can be especially useful for populations unable to return for second shot

Dr. Karina Pillay, former mayor of Slave Lake, Alta., is shown at her medical clinic in Calgary on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
10 years later: Former Slave Lake mayor remembers wildfire that burned through town

Alberta announced in 2011 that an unknown arsonist had recklessly or deliberately ignited the forest fire

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman travelling from Alberta found dead in B.C. park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

A caribou grazes on Baffin Island in a 2008 file photo. A last-ditch attempt to save some of Canada’s vanishing caribou herds is a step closer after a scientific review panel’s approval of a plan to permanently pen some animals and breed them to repopulate other herds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kike Calvo via AP Images
Parks Canada captive caribou breeding proposal gets OK from scientific review panel

Wolf density in Jasper is low enough that the animals would not be expected to be a major threat

People pass the red hearts on the COVID-19 Memorial Wall mourning those who have died, opposite the Houses of Parliament on the Embankment in London, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. On May 3, the British government announced that only one person had died of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kirsty Wigglesworth
For a view of a COVID-19 future, Canadians should look across the pond

Britain, like Canada, is one of the only countries in the world to delay second doses for several months

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

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

Jennifer Coffman, owner of Truffle Pigs in Field, B.C., poses beside her business sign on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in this handout photo. Her restaurant and lodge have been hit hard by a closure of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway and by the British Columbia government discouraging Alberta residents from visiting during the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Coffman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘Why we survive’: B.C. boundary towns struggle without Albertans during pandemic

Jennifer Coffman’s restaurant is located in the tiny community of Field, which relies on tourism

A rodeo south of Bowden drew a huge crowd on May 1 and 2, 2021. (Photo courtesy Mom’s Diner’s Facebook page)

Most Read