August 17, 2021 - 7:15am

President Biden has been talking about Afghanistan for the best part of two decades. A timeline of his views shows a consistent desire to withdraw American troops from the country. In a press conference yesterday evening Biden reiterated the same point he has been making for at least ten years: “I’ve argued for many years that our mission should be narrowly focused on counter-terrorism, not counter-insurgency or nation building.”

Nobody who has paid attention to the President can say this decision came as a surprise. We’ve collected some crucial moments from over the years:


Then Senator Biden, like the majority of his colleagues, supported military action being taken against Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11. On Oct 22, 2001 he said: “our hope is that we will see a relatively stable government in Afghanistan, one that… provides the foundation for future reconstruction of that country.” He voted alongside 77 other Senators to give President Bush the authority to expand the war to Iraq in October 2002 — although as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, he tried to draft a narrower authority for the conflict. That vote on Iraq would change the way Biden saw the Afghan conflict.


Biden’s first public admission of sceptism would come in November of 2005, during a ‘Meet the Press’ discussion:

“It was a mistake… it was a mistake to assume the President would use the authority we gave him properly.”
- Joe Biden, 2005


In a 2008 interview, Biden used the war in Afghanistan to attack President Bush, claiming that the US should “urgently shift our focus” from Iraq to Afghanistan.

As Vice President, a 2008 visit to Kabul cemented Biden’s pessimistic feelings about the war in Afghanistan. One evening, the Vice-President “blew up”.

He assailed then-Afghan President Hamid Karzai over corruption and the growing heroin trade. “He was getting more and more irritated,” said Chuck Hagel, a senator who accompanied Biden on the trip. “Eventually I had to grab Joe’s arm to settle him down.” Biden wrested free and slammed his fist on the table in frustration, Hagel recalled. A few minutes later the meeting ended.
- Joe Biden according to Chuck Hagel, 2008


In 2009, Biden’s then foreign policy advisor Tony Blinken (now Secretary of State) revealed the view of the Vice President towards how the administration should proceed with Afghanistan:

We’re no longer talking about doing nation-building in Afghanistan, we’re no longer talking about doing a counterinsurgency in every nook and cranny of the country, we’re no longer talking about defeating the Taliban, which Biden argued was neither likely nor necessary.
- Joe Biden according to Tony Blinken, 2009


Biden’s dissatisfaction with the war continued. In 2010, Richard Holbrooke, special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, reported that Biden lost his temper when discussing the conflict.

I am not sending my boy back there to risk his life on behalf of women’s rights! It just won’t work, that’s not what they’re there for!
- Joe Biden according to Richard Holbrooke, 2010

Holbrooke further asserted that the Vice President refused to be moved by accusations that, by pulling out of the country, he was abandoning Afghan girls. Biden responded strongly:

“Fuck that, we don’t have to worry about that. We did it in Vietnam, Nixon and Kissinger got away with it.”
- Joe Biden according to Richard Holbrooke 2010


In 2011, according to President Obama, he advised against the raid on the Abbottabad compound in Pakistan that killed Osama Bin Laden:

“Joe weighed in against the raid… [Biden was] concerned about the enormous consequences of failure”
- Joe Biden according to Barack Obama, 2011


Biden’s decision not to run for the Democratic nomination in 2016 was a disappointment for doves, who saw him as a contrast to Hillary Clinton’s more interventionist leanings.

Rather than viewing the Trump administration’s withdrawal efforts as having tied the hands of the current Democratic President, Trump in many ways fell in line with Joe Biden. A 2017 New York Times article explicitly described Joe Biden as having been the frontrunner to Trump’s Afghan strategy.

Now that Mr. Trump has embraced Mr. Biden’s plan for Afghanistan, he has blurred a line between him and Mr. Obama’s No. 2, as well as with the foreign policy establishment Mr. Trump ran against in 2016.
- Mark Landler, New York Times, 2017


As President, on July 8th of this year, Biden announced his plans to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, stating that:

“After 20 years — a trillion dollars spent training and equipping hundreds of thousands of Afghan National Security and Defence Forces, 2,448 Americans killed, 20,722 more wounded, and untold thousands coming home with unseen trauma to their mental health — I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.”
- Joe Biden, July 8th 2021

The White House’s statement over the weekend — like the speech the President made yesterday — was another justification of beliefs long held by him:

I was the fourth President to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan — two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth.”
- Joe Biden, August 14th 2021