President Joe Biden said on Wednesday US troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan starting May 1 to end America's longest war, rejecting calls for them to stay to ensure a peaceful resolution to that nation's grinding internal conflict.
Foreign troops under Nato command will also withdraw from Afghanistan in coordination with the US pull-out, Nato allies agreed. The withdrawal of foreign troops will be completed by Sept 11.
Around 7,000 non-US forces from mainly Nato countries, also from Australia, New Zealand and Georgia, outnumber the 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan, but they still rely on American air support, planning and leadership.
"While our military contribution will reduce, we will continue to support the stability of Afghanistan through our bilateral partnership and in concert with our other nations," Australian PM Scott Morrison said.
Biden acknowledged that US objectives in Afghanistan had become "increasingly unclear" over the past decade and set a deadline for withdrawing all US troops remaining in Afghanistan by Sept 11, exactly 20 years after al-Qaeda's attacks on the United States that triggered the war.
But by pulling out without a clear victory over the Taliban and other radicals in Afghanistan, the US opens itself to criticism that a withdrawal represents a de facto admission of failure for American military strategy.
"It was never meant to be a multi-generational undertaking. We were attacked. We went to war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives," Biden said, noting that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by American forces in 2011 and saying that organization has been "degraded" in Afghanistan.
"And it's time to end the forever war," Biden added.
The war has cost the lives of 2,448 American service members and consumed an estimated $2 trillion. US troop numbers in Afghanistan peaked at more than 100,000 in 2011.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wrote on Twitter that he spoke with Biden and respects the US decision.
Meanwhile, India said it was concerned about the vacuum developing in Afghanistan, the chief of the defence staff said yesterday.
General Bipin Rawat told a security conference that the worry was "disruptors" would step into the space created by the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. He declined to name the countries that could act as spoilers.
India's big worry is that instability in Afghanistan could spill over into its Muslim-majority territory of Kashmir where it has been fighting militants for three decades.
It is also concerned that arch rival Pakistan will gain a bigger hand in Afghanistan because of its long-standing ties with the hardline Taliban, who are expected to play a dominant role once the United States leaves.