Who Ordered the Withdrawal From Afghanistan and When Did Most U.S. Troops Leave?

The chaos engulfing Kabul this weekend was, according to Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, "ultimately inevitable."

U.S. defense and intelligence officials appear to have severely underestimated the Taliban's military capabilities, and severely overestimated the power of the civilian government in Kabul and the Afghan Armed Forces supporting it.

The American flight from Kabul will be a stain on President Joe Biden's legacy and stand as a monument to American foreign policy hubris. After two decades, trillions of dollars, and hundreds of thousands of deaths, the Taliban are back in charge.

Biden will wear the shame of the Afghanistan tragedy. But so too will his three predecessors, including former President George W. Bush who embarked upon the open-ended conflict before shifting his attention to the similarly disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Biden is the third U.S. president—along with former President Barack Obama and former President Donald Trump—to order a full withdrawal from Afghanistan, a move always likely to invite a Taliban offensive that would severely strain a weak Afghan government.

In April, Biden ordered a full withdrawal from Afghanistan by September 11—the 20th anniversary of the devastating Al-Qaeda attacks on the U.S. that prompted the sprawling "War on Terror".

In July, Biden updated the deadline for withdrawal of America's 3,000 or so troops to 31 August. The Pentagon said the withdrawal was already 90 percent complete.

The U.S. footprint swelled again last week when Biden ordered 4,000 troops to Kabul to support the evacuation of U.S. diplomatic staff and some Afghan civilians, including translators and others who had worked for the American and international forces.

This brought the total of American troops in-country to 5,000. All are expected to have left Afghanistan in the coming days, the Taliban allowing safe passage for international forces while establishing their new government.

Former President Donald Trump has called on Biden to resign over the collapse in Afghanistan. But Trump's presidency was punctuated with orders to fully withdraw from the country, prompting multiple clashes with military officials and foreign policy hawks who wished to stay.

Trump signed a peace agreement with the Taliban in 2020, by which all American troops would leave the country by May 2021. "It's time after all these years to bring our people back home," Trump said then.

Later, Trump even demanded that all Americans be withdrawn from Afghanistan by Christmas—just weeks before he was to leave office after losing the November presidential election to Biden.

Before Trump, former President Barack Obama also ordered the withdrawal of almost all U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2014. Then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the administration would "ensure adequate plans are in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014."

Obama planned to leave a residual force of less than 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan to support the government in Kabul and assist counter-terrorism operations there, a strategy advocated by hawkish Republicans during Trump's time in office.

US helicopter flying near Kabul embassy Afghanistan
A U.S. military helicopter is pictured flying near the U.S. embassy in Kabul on August 15, 2021. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images