COLUMBUS, Ind. — On Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced in a 16-minute speech from the Treaty Room, his plan to withdraw remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan, declaring, “it is time to end the forever war.”
Biden said the plan is to begin the drawdown of roughly 2,500 American troops on May 1, with all troops out of the region by Sept. 11, the 20 year anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
“U.S. troops as well as forces deployed by our NATO allies and operational partners will be out of Afghanistan before we mark the anniversary of the heinous attack on September 11,” Biden said.
“It’s time to end America’s longest war,” he said. “It’s time for the American troops to come home.”
In February 2020, the Trump administration reached an agreement with the Taliban to halt attacks and hold peace talks with the Afghan government, which was in exchange for a U.S. commitment to withdraw all troops by May 2021, however, that will now be when the withdrawal begins.
“We’ll do it responsibly, deliberately and safely and we will do it in full coordination with our allies and partners who now have more forces in Afghanistan than we do,” Biden said.
He added that the United States would “not conduct a hasty rush to the exit.”
Biden made the official announcement from the same room where President George W. Bush declared war after the attacks on 9/11.
The announcement has been met with criticism by mostly Republicans, but also some Democrats, although President Trump also wanted a full removal of troops by 2021 from Afghanistan.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said, “This administration has decided to abandon U.S. efforts in Afghanistan which have helped keep radical Islamic terrorism in check.”
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham also said the President was making a mistake with this decision.
“I believe with all my heart and soul, after 50 something trips to the region, that a few thousand Americans watching over there would make it hard for al-Qaida and ISIS to reorganize, to hit us over here,” said Graham.
“I also know that there are many that will argue we should stay fighting in Afghanistan because withdrawal would damage America’s credibility and weaken America’s influence on the world,” said Biden, “I believe the exact opposite is true.”
Biden argued, “War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multi-generational undertaking. We were attacked. We went to war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives.”
The announcement will be likely met with mixed emotions from Gold Star families of service members killed in Afghanistan.
Mark Hunter, father of Columbus native, Sgt. Jonathon Michael Hunter, who was killed in Afghanistan, says he is satisfied to see this, but chooses to focus on remembering his son and the sacrifice he made.
“It makes me happy that they’re finally pulling out, but that’s all I’m going to say about it,” said Mark. “It’s time. It’s time. We’ve lost too many young men and women.”
Sgt. Hunter was killed in Aug. 2017 when a suicide bomber rammed a car filled with explosives into a NATO convoy outside Kandahar. The Taliban took responsibility for the attack.
Mark said, “He was just a good kid. He was a good friend,” sharing how Jonathon always put others first.
Hunter reached the rank of Sergeant in just three short years, his dad said. His first mission as Sergeant began July 1, just one month before he was killed.
His father said he knew the risks he was taking, and he is proud of his son for everything he accomplished.
“He was at Indiana State, Dean’s list and he called me one day said he joined the Army, already signed the papers,” said Mark. “I said, ‘you’re probably gonna go to war.’ I said, ‘are you ready to die for your country?’ He said, ‘yes, I am.'”
“Like I said, he always stood up for the underdog or the little guy,” Mark said. “He knew what he was getting into and I did too, but he died honorably.”
Mark said the family works to continue honoring his son’s life. Each year, a memorial basketball tournament is held to raise money for a scholarship set up in his name, and a mini-park dedicated in Columbus honors his memory. Last year the tournament was unable to go on due to COVID-19, but they hope to start it up again.
Mark said the loss of his son never gets easier, but he said his family has learned to find ways to cope.
“I have good days and bad days,” Mark shared. “I think of him every day. Some days I lose it.”
“I shed a tear about every day. Some days it’s just a lot more tears,” said Mark.
Mark remembers his son as a ‘good leader’ and ‘heck of a football player.’ He said Jonathon was married for less than a year to his beloved wife before he passed, but shared how strong their love for one another was, and how grateful he is to have gained a daughter.
At the time of Sgt. Hunter’s passing, Vice President Mike Pence shared a statement that read, “Karen and I join the Columbus community and every American in honoring the service and mourning the passing of a courageous American, Sergeant Jonathon Hunter. Sgt. Hunter was a proud Hoosier and an American hero – and his legacy will ever be enshrined in our hearts. Our prayers will be with Sgt. Hunter’s wife Whitney, his parents, his brother Marcus, and all of his loved ones and friends.”
Biden’s remarks Wednesday also included thanking the men and women who have “never backed down” from a single mission. He said, “They’ve paid a tremendous price on our behalf and they have the thanks of a grateful nation.”