Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed on a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Thursday, less than 24 hours after President Joe Biden announced the complete withdrawal of US forces from the country by September 11 this year.
During his stay in Kabul, Blinken met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the country’s High Council for National Reconciliation, as well as members of Afghan civil society.
“With my visit I wanted to demonstrate the continued commitment of the United States to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanistan,” said Blinken when he met Ghani in the presidential palace in Kabul.
“The partnership changes, but the partnership continues.”
The Secretary of State also met with American soldiers at the US embassy. “What you and your predecessors have done over the past 20 years is really extraordinary,” he told them.
“I am in constant awe of what you have achieved,” he added.
Ghani said Thursday that he respected the US decision to withdraw.
“Afghanistan’s proud security and defense forces are able to defend the people and the country, which they have always been doing,” he said on Twitter after speaking with Biden on Wednesday.
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Other prominent Afghan government officials were not as optimistic.
Mir Rahman Rahmani, speaker of the Afghan parliament, said on Wednesday that although the people of the country want foreign forces to leave, “the conditions for this have not yet been met”.
“It is possible that Afghanistan will turn into another civil war or become a haven for international terrorist organizations,” warned spokesman Rahmani in a speech in parliament.
“We expect the withdrawal to be conditional and dependent on peace, security and long-term stability. Otherwise history will repeat itself. “
Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., A close ally of former President Donald Trump, said the withdrawal would backfire by prolonging the conflict and possibly even breathing new life into al-Qaeda. “What do we lose by withdrawing? We will lose this insurance policy for another 9/11,” said Graham.
Under the Trump administration, the US signed an agreement with the Taliban that foreign troops would leave Afghanistan by May 1 to deny al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups and to begin peace talks with an Afghan delegation.
The intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha, Qatar, have been going on for months. 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 discussions.
Biden announced on Wednesday that all US troops will withdraw from Afghanistan in time for the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks that sparked the American invasion of the country.
“I am now the fourth President of the United States to preside over an American military presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats,” said Biden. “I will not transfer this responsibility to a fifth.”
“It’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for American troops to come home.”
Biden said the US will continue to support the Afghan government and support the Afghan national defense and security forces. The US will also continue diplomatic and humanitarian work in the country and support the peace talks.
Approximately 2,500 US troops are deployed in Afghanistan – the lowest number since 2001.
As part of their agreement with the United States, the Taliban have also committed to reducing violence. But the fighting between the two sides continued despite the talks and Civilian casualties and apolitical assassinations have increased.
After Biden’s decision, the Taliban said they would not participate in negotiations on Afghanistan’s future until all foreign troops withdrew.
Blinken spoke in Brussels ahead of his arrival in Kabul, warning the Taliban not to make a decision if they wanted international recognition or support. He insisted that there are “a number of incentives and disincentives that will continue to shape what happens”.
“It is of no interest to anyone, including the Taliban, to plunge Afghanistan into a long war into a civil war that does terrible damage to the country and all people,” he said, adding, “Ultimately, it will be the people of Afghanistan be.” decide about their future. “
Blinken held a press conference in Brussels with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Defense Minister Lloyd Austin. Stoltenberg confirmed the withdrawal of all NATO-led forces by May 1 and said it plans to complete the withdrawal of all of his troops “within a few months”.
“We went to Afghanistan together. We adjusted our stance together. And we all agree that we should go together,” he said.
NATO currently has around 10,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, more than 7,000 of whom are non-US armed forces.
With boots on the ground for nearly two decades, around 2,300 US soldiers have died in the country and more than 20,000 have been wounded in what many have called “forever” war.
Since the US invasion in 2001, more than 100,000,000 Afghan civilians have been killed or injured in the fighting.