KEY POINTS

  • McConnell believes "it is a mistake to completely pull out"
  • Biden wants a full U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by Sept. 11
  • Currently, at least 2,500 American troops are deployed in Afghanistan

As the U.S. military is in the process of fully withdrawing from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks that triggered America’s longest war, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has warned that the Taliban could overrun the Afghan government by the end of the year.

President Joe Biden in April announced his decision to pull out U.S. troops from Afghanistan. At the time, he said that “the 9/11 attacks cannot justify American forces still being there (in Afghanistan) 20 years after the deadliest terror assault on the United States.”

Currently, at least 2,500 American troops are deployed in Afghanistan as part of the 9,600-strong NATO mission. The remaining U.S. troops in the country began formally withdrawing on May 1.

Speaking to reporters in Kentucky on Thursday, McConnell said: “I think there's a high likelihood that the Taliban will be back in control of the country, maybe as early as the end of the year.” He had previously called Biden’s troop withdrawal decision a “grave mistake” and added that the move would “leave coalition partners and vulnerable Afghans high and dry.”

US troops and Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers raise Afghanistan's national flag during a handover ceremony at Camp Antonik in Helmand province US troops and Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers raise Afghanistan's national flag during a handover ceremony at Camp Antonik in Helmand province Photo: Afghanistan's Ministry of Defence office / -

While announcing the troop withdrawal, Biden had said that it was “time to end the forever war.” But McConnell said that he doesn’t “think you can call this an endless war” as the American troops in Afghanistan “haven't been in raging combat the entire period.” He also stressed that no U.S. troops have been killed in the conflict in over a year, the Hill reported.

The reason behind fewer U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan over the last year was that the Taliban abstained from attacking American and coalition forces after inking a withdrawal agreement with the (Donald) Trump administration. Now, the terror group has again threatened to resume attacks as the May 1 deadline for a complete U.S. troop withdrawal stated in last year’s agreement has passed.

McConnell said: “I believe it is a mistake to completely pull out. I think some presence there for counterterrorism and training purposes is an American's best interest.”

Many U.S. lawmakers and military officials have also expressed concerns over the President’s decision. They argue that once the American troops are out of the South Asian country, the Taliban could take over Afghanistan, allow Al Qaeda to thrive again, and roll back the rights of Afghan women and minorities.

Earlier this month, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned of "huge consequences" of the American troop withdrawal. She said that the Taliban could retake control of Afghanistan. "This is what we call a wicked problem… There are consequences both foreseen and unintended of staying and of leaving," she told CNN.

According to Clinton, the potential collapse of the Afghan government and a possible takeover by the Taliban could lead to a new civil war.