Biden Declared the War Over. But Wars Go On.

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News Analysis

The president’s assertion aft the withdrawal from Afghanistan that the United States is not astatine warfare for the archetypal clip successful 20 years ignored continued smaller-scale conflicts.

President Biden declared earlier  the United Nations connected  Tuesday that the United States had “turned the page” connected  its wars. But it was conscionable  the latest effort  by an American president   to disguise  the world  of smaller-scale equipped  conflicts.
Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times

Mark Mazzetti

Sept. 22, 2021, 6:47 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — President Biden declared to the United Nations connected Tuesday that “for the archetypal clip successful 20 years, the United States is not astatine war. We’ve turned the page.”

One time earlier, a rocket fired from an American drone incinerated a car driving on a distant roadworthy successful northwestern Syria, a onslaught aimed against a suspected Qaeda operative. Three weeks earlier that, the subject launched an airstrike successful Somalia targeting members of the Shabab militant group, portion of an American aerial run successful that state that has intensified successful caller months.

There are nary longer American troops successful Afghanistan, but America’s wars spell on.

Mr. Biden’s assertion astatine the United Nations was intended to amusement helium had made bully connected his pledge to extremity America’s longest war, and his code came connected the aforesaid time that the past worker to dice earlier the American withdrawal from Afghanistan was laid to rest astatine Arlington National Cemetery.

But it was conscionable the latest effort by an American president successful the 2 decades since the Sept. 11 attacks to massage the connection of warfare to disguise a sometimes inconvenient reality: that America is inactive engaged successful equipped struggle passim the world.

In a letter to Congress successful June, Mr. Biden listed each the countries wherever American troops are operating against assorted militant groups — from Iraq and Syria to Yemen to the Philippines to Niger.

There are much than 40,000 American troops stationed astir the Middle East, including 2,500 troops successful Iraq much than 18 years aft President George W. Bush ordered an penetration of that country. About 900 troops are successful Syria connected a ngo begun by President Barack Obama successful 2015, and Mr. Biden has said helium would nonstop the subject to transportation retired aboriginal operations successful Afghanistan against emerging violent threats, adjacent if they are launched from bases extracurricular the country.

“Our troops are not coming home. We request to beryllium honorable astir that,” Representative Tom Malinowski, Democrat of New Jersey, said during legislature grounds this period from Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. “They are simply moving to different bases successful the aforesaid portion to behaviour the aforesaid counterterrorism missions, including successful Afghanistan.”

The fracturing of the Islamic State — and the emergence of affiliates of the radical successful North Africa, Asia and elsewhere — has fixed a justification to subject planners to proceed immoderate of the operations Mr. Biden described successful his missive to Congress.

The bulk of these deployments bash not impact “routine engagement successful combat,” the missive said, but successful galore places American troops “may beryllium required to support themselves against threats oregon attacks.”

Pentagon information released successful caller months shows a accordant drumbeat of strikes against the Islamic State successful Iraq and Syria, adjacent if it is little than a fistful of strikes each month.

The shadiness wars fought with drones and peculiar operations troops person been arsenic overmuch a portion of the past of the post-Sept. 11 epoch arsenic the conflicts successful Iraq and Afghanistan. But American presidents successful antithetic ways person promoted their benefits to the American nationalist by portraying them arsenic someway cleaner, much antiseptic — what the nationalist information adept Micah Zenko calls “defining warfare down.”

Mr. Obama said repeatedly that helium opposed American “boots connected the ground” successful far-flung parts of the world, yet his medication made exceptions for peculiar operations forces that sometimes led to American officials making linguistic contortions to downplay the combat relation the troops would play.

In precocious 2015, erstwhile pressed by a reporter connected whether the determination to deploy troops to Iraq and Syria was a reversal of his “no boots connected the ground” pledge, helium replied that the American radical knew what helium meant by that pledge — “that we’re not going to bash an Iraq-style penetration of Iraq oregon Syria with battalions that are moving crossed the desert.” The Pentagon called the archetypal radical of 200 troops to deploy a “specialized expeditionary targeting force.”

When Mr. Bush gave a concealed bid successful 2008 to motorboat a punishing drone run against Al Qaeda successful Pakistan, helium ne'er had to talk publically astir the operations due to the fact that they were done nether the C.I.A.’s covert enactment authority.

As a statesmanlike campaigner successful 2016, Donald J. Trump spoke skeptically astir the big, costly wars successful Iraq and Afghanistan but utilized blustery connection astir however helium would “bomb the hell” retired of the Islamic State. Eventually, Mr. Zenko said, helium “bombed each state that Obama had.”

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Credit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Mr. Biden came to bureau vowing an extremity to the “forever wars” — and has firmly defended his determination to propulsion American troops from Afghanistan successful the look of withering disapproval from lawmakers of some parties. But medication officials person been wide that combat missions successful different countries volition continue, namely those that bash not impact ample deployments of American troops oregon gully aggravated quality media scrutiny.

Some veterans bash not spot specified tidy distinctions. “Everyone’s position of warfare is precise different,” said Representative Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat and a seasoned of the Iraq war. But, helium added, “from my perspective, there’s radical shooting astatine you, that’s considered war.”

The medication has spent months trying to forge caller rules governing however and erstwhile to transportation retired lethal strikes extracurricular declared warfare zones — an effort calved from the content among Mr. Biden’s squad that the rules had go excessively relaxed during Mr. Trump’s 4 years successful office.

But the accelerated illness of Afghanistan’s authorities — and the presumption among medication officials that Al Qaeda and different groups could summation spot successful the state sooner than had been primitively envisioned — has analyzable this process. While White House officials primitively envisioned keeping choky power implicit support of subject strikes, successful caller weeks they person debated giving much latitude to subject commanders to transportation retired strikes successful Afghanistan and definite different countries wherever operations mightiness beryllium much frequent.

Four American presidents person embraced the caller American mode of warfare successful portion due to the fact that Congress has enactment truthful fewer limits connected wherever they tin wage it. The bulk of American counterterrorism operations astir the satellite are being conducted utilizing a 20-year-old authorization Congress gave Mr. Bush to avenge the Sept. 11 attacks.

For years, apical lawmakers person denounced the information that consequent presidents person continued to usage the 2001 resolution, the Authorization for Use of Military Force, to warrant operations against groups that did not adjacent beryllium erstwhile the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. But determination has ne'er been capable governmental statement connected Capitol Hill to repeal oregon regenerate the decades-old authorization.

Several administrations person besides concluded that — dissimilar the unpopular wars successful Afghanistan and Iraq — the American nationalist is broadly supportive of operations that look to contiguous small hazard to American troops. Until, that is, they nutrient disastrous headlines.

A botched drone onslaught past period successful Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, was the latest lawsuit successful point. What the subject intended arsenic a onslaught against what officials believed was a militant readying a termination onslaught — the president of the Joint Chiefs of Staff called the cognition “righteous” — became a debacle that killed what the Pentagon aboriginal acknowledged was an guiltless antheral and his family.

The troops person present near Afghanistan, but the exertion spawned by America’s longest warfare volition endure.

“That drone onslaught successful Kabul was not the past enactment of our war,” Mr. Malinowski said during the legislature testimony. “It was unluckily the archetypal enactment of the adjacent signifier of our war.”

Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.

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