Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Afghanistan Thursday for a surprise visit less than 24 hours after President Joe Biden announced the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country by September 11 this year.
While in Kabul, Blinken was due to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar as well as members of civil society to discuss the decision.
Blinken promised that the withdrawal of US forces would not mean the end of Washington’s engagement in Afghanistan.
Ghani said he respects the US decision to step down, writing on Twitter following a conversation with Biden that “Afghanistan’s proud security and defense forces are fully capable of defending their people and their country. , which they have always done.
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Other senior Afghan government officials were not so optimistic.
Mir Rahman Rahmani, Speaker of the Afghan Parliament, said on Wednesday that while the people of the country want foreign forces to leave, “the conditions are not yet in place for that to happen.”
“It is possible that Afghanistan will turn into another civil war or become a safe haven for international terrorist organizations,” President Rahmani warned in a speech to parliament.
“We hope that the withdrawal will be condition-based and depend on long-term peace, security and stability; otherwise, history will repeat itself. “
Senator Lindsey Graham, RS.C., a close ally of former President Donald Trump, said the pullout would backfire by prolonging the conflict and possibly even breathing new life into Al Qaeda. “What do we lose by pulling out? We lose this insurance policy against another 9/11,” Graham said.
Under the Trump administration, the United States signed an agreement with the Taliban that foreign troops would leave Afghanistan by May 1 in return for their commitment to disown Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups and to start peace talks with an Afghan delegation.
Intra-Afghan negotiations have been going on for months in Doha, Qatar. Turkey announced earlier this week that representatives of the Afghan government and the insurgent group would meet in Istanbul later this month to speed up talks.
Biden announced on Wednesday that all U.S. troops would withdraw from Afghanistan in time for the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks that sparked the U.S. invasion of the country.
“I am now the fourth President of the United States to preside over a US troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats,” Biden said. “I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth.”
“It’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for US troops to return home.”
Biden said the United States will continue to support the Afghan government and provide assistance to the Afghan national defense and security forces. The United States will also continue diplomatic and humanitarian work in the country and support the peace talks.
About 2,500 U.S. troops are serving in Afghanistan – the lowest number since 2001.
As part of their deal with the United States, the Taliban also pledged to reduce violence. But fighting between the two sides continued despite the talks, and civilian casualties and apolitical assassinations increased.
Following Biden’s decision, the Taliban said they would not participate in any negotiations over the future of Afghanistan until all foreign troops withdrew.
Speaking in Brussels ahead of his arrival in Kabul, Blinken warned that the Taliban have a choice to make if they want international recognition or support, insisting that there is a “series of incentives and disincentives. who will continue to shape what happens ”.
“It is in the interest of no one, including the Taliban, to plunge Afghanistan back into a long war into a civil war which will cause terrible damage to the country and to everyone,” he said. , adding that “in the end, it will be the Afghan people to decide their future.
Blinken held a press conference in Brussels with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Stoltenberg confirmed the withdrawal of all NATO-led forces by May 1 and said he expected to complete the withdrawal of all his troops “in a few months”.
“We went to Afghanistan together. We adjusted our posture together. And we are united to go together,” he said.
NATO currently has around 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, of which more than 7,000 are non-US forces.
With boots on the ground for nearly two decades, an estimated 2,300 American soldiers have lost their lives in the country and more than 20,000 have been wounded in what many have called a “forever” war.
More than 100,000,000 Afghan civilians have also been killed or wounded in the fighting since the US invasion in 2001.