AP PHOTOS: Sacrifice, sorrow: 20 years of war in Afghanistan

April 14, 2021 GMT

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — President Joe Biden has announced a withdrawal of all remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September, about 20 years after the start of a war provoked by the deadliest terror assault on the United States.

Biden’s plan, announced Wednesday, is to pull out all the American forces — now numbering 2,500 — by Sept. 11, the anniversary of the attacks on the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon that were coordinated from Afghanistan by the late al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

There were 2,500 to 3,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan when Biden took office, the smallest number since early in the war. The number peaked at 100,000 during President Barack Obama’s first term.

Associated Press photographers have recorded the two-decade conflict from every angle. So many of their images have conveyed the drama and grim reality of battle: U.S. Marines nearly swallowed in clouds of swirling sand as they returned fire on Taliban shooters; a Marine with shrapnel wounds to his face and body peering out from behind bloodied bandages; an Air Force paramedic draping an American flag over the remains of two U.S. soldiers killed by an improvised explosive device; Marines rushing a comrade who had been shot in the chest to a waiting medevac helicopter.

They also have captured the unexpected — such as when a soldier roused from sleep during an attack rushed to a defensive position in Restrepo wearing his bright red-and-white “I Love New York” boxer shorts — and the poignant, including a frame of a soldier sitting on his top bunk after hanging a hand-drawn American flag sent by friends with the message “We Support Our Troops!”

As U.S. war casualties have declined, the American public has lost interest in the Afghanistan conflict and the withdrawal of troops is likely to be politically popular. But some are warning that it could lead to another power grab by the Taliban and an undoing of the democratic gains the country has made over the past 20 years. The move is also likely to spark criticism from Republicans — even though former President Donald Trump also said he wanted a full troop withdrawal.