Blinken to Sell Afghan Troop Withdrawal04/15 06:08
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to
Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and a wary public on President
Joe Biden's decision to withdraw all American troops from the country and end
America's longest-running war.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an
unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and a wary
public on President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw all American troops from
the country and end America's longest-running war.
Blinken was meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, chief executive
Abdullah Abdullah, and civic figures, a day after Biden announced that the
remaining 2,500 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan would be coming home by the 20th
anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that led to the U.S. invasion.
His trip also came after NATO immediately followed suit, saying its roughly
7,000 non-American forces in Afghanistan would be departing within a few
months, ending the foreign military presence that had been a fact of life for a
generation of Afghans already reeling from more than 40 years of conflict.
Blinken sought to reassure the Afghan leadership that the withdrawal did not
mean an end to the U.S.-Afghan relationship.
"I wanted to demonstrate with my visit the ongoing to commitment of the
United States to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanistan," Blinken
told Ghani as they met at the presidential palace in Kabul. "The partnership is
changing, but the partnership itself is enduring."
"We respect the decision and are adjusting our priorities," Ghani told
Blinken, expressing gratitude for the sacrifices of US troops.
Blinken arrived in the Afghan capital from Brussels where he and Defense
Secretary Lloyd Austin briefed NATO officials on the move and NATO chief Jens
Stoltenberg announced the alliance would also be leaving.
The Taliban's spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed warned Wednesday that "problems
will be compounded," if the U.S. misses a May 1 deadline for withdrawal set
during the Trump administration. The insurgent movement has yet to respond to
Biden's surprise announcement that the pullout would only start on that date.
Biden, Blinken, Austin and Stoltenberg have all sought to put a brave face
on the pullout, maintaining that the U.S.- and NATO-led missions to Afghanistan
had achieved their goal of decimating Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network that
launched the 9/11 attacks and clearing the country of terrorist elements that
could use Afghan soil to plot similar strikes.
However, that argument has faced pushback from some U.S, lawmakers and human
rights advocates who say the withdrawal will result in the loss of freedoms
that Afghans enjoyed after the Taliban was ousted from power in late 2001.
Later, in a meeting with Abdullah, Blinken repeated his message, saying that
"we have a new chapter, but it is a new chapter that we're writing together."
"We are grateful to your people, your country, your administration,"
Despite billions of U.S. dollars in aid, Afghanistan 20 years on has a
poverty rate of 52 per cent according to World Bank figures. That means more
than half of Afghanistan's 36 million people live on less than $1.90 a day.
Afghanistan is also considered one of the worst countries in the world to be a
woman according to the Georgetown Institute for Women Peace and Security.
For many Afghans the past two decades have been disappointing, as corruption
has overtaken successive governments and powerful warlords have amassed wealth
and loyal militias who are well armed. Many Afghans fear worsening chaos even
more once America leaves.
Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are at a stalemate
but are supposed to resume later this month in Istanbul.
Under an agreement signed between the Trump administration and the Taliban
last year, the U.S. was to have completed its military withdrawal by May 1.
Although Biden is blowing through that deadline, angering the Taliban
leadership, his plan calls for the pull-out to begin on May 1. The NATO
withdrawal will commence the same day.
"It is time to end America's longest war," Biden said in his announcement in
Washington on Tuesday, but he added that the U.S. will "not conduct a hasty
rush to the exit."
"We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military
presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our
withdrawal, expecting a different result," said Biden, who delivered his
address from the White House Treaty Room, the same location where President
George W. Bush announced the start of the war. "I am now the fourth United
States president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two
Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth."
Biden, along with Blinken and Austin in Brussels, vowed that the U.S. would
remain committed to Afghanistan's people and development.
"Bringing our troops home does not mean ending our relationship with
Afghanistan or our support for the country," Blinken said. "Our support, our
engagement and our determination remain."
Austin also said that the U.S. military, after withdrawing from Afghanistan,
will keep counterterrorism "capabilities" in the region to keep pressure on
extremist groups operating within Afghanistan. Asked for details, he declined
to elaborate on where those U.S. forces would be positioned or in what numbers.