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

Did you know, according to the CRD, every person produces an average of 185–200 litres of wastewater per day? Here’s where most of it gets treated, at the new wastewater treatment facility at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt. (CRD image)
View Royal signs on to wastewater funding plan

Capital Regional District requesting to borrow up to $34.3 million to upgrade infrastructure

Susan Lundy is an award-winning writer – including a two-time recipient of the prestigious Jack Webster Award of Distinction – with a 35-year career in print journalism. She is well known throughout B.C. as the managing editor of Black Press Media’s Boulevard Magazine and is also the author of the book Heritage Apples. (Lia Crowe photo)
Award-winning journalist and humour columnist pens ode to motherhood and family

Susan Lundy is the managing editor of Black Press Media’s Boulevard Magazine

Kenny Podmore, here seen at Sidney’s cenotaph in November, says he feels for the veterans after organizers had to cancel an event acknowledging Victory in Europe (VE) Day for the second time in as many years because of COVID-19. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
North Saanich event marking 75th anniversary of VE-Day cancelled

Sidney resident first planned event for May 9, 2020 moved to May 8 before being cancelled

Individuals and businesses are encouraged to bring their unwanted electronics to Tillicum Centre May 14 to be shredded, recycled or donated. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria residents can shred, donate electronics safely

Vancouver Island Better Business Bureau hosts event May 14 at Tillicum Centre

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

Gord Judson steers his log truck down a forest service road, using two-way radio and call signals to mark his position for oncoming traffic. (B.C. Forest Safety Council)
Planning some B.C. wilderness fishing? Don’t catch a log truck

Remote recreation areas bracing for heavy pandemic pressure

Former University of British Columbia student Stephanie Hale, 22. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff Bassett
Human Rights Tribunal to hear complaint against UBC Okanagan for ‘mishandling’ sexual assault report

Stephanie Hale did not return to campus after the student she alleges attacked her was cleared of wrongdoing

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 sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Ladysmith RCMP safely escorted the black bear to the woods near Ladysmith Cemetary. (Town of Ladysmith/Facebook photo)
Black bear tranquillized, relocated after wandering around residential Ladysmith

A juvenile black bear was spotted near 2nd Avenue earlier Friday morning

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland 3rd behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The event was postponed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Most Read