US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and the public was wary of President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all US troops from the country and put an end to it. America’s longest war.
Blinken sought to reassure senior Afghan politicians that the United States remained committed to the country despite Biden’s announcement a day earlier that the remaining 2,500 US troops in the country would go home on the occasion of the anniversary. 20th September 11th terrorist attack that led to US invasion in 2001.
Mr Blinken told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani as they met at the presidential palace in Kabul: “I want to demonstrate with my visit the United States’ continued commitment to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanistan. “The partnership is changing, but the partnership itself is long-standing.”
“We respect our decision and are adjusting our priorities,” Ghani told Blinken, expressing gratitude for the American military’s sacrifice.
Then, in meeting with Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the National Reconciliation Council, Blinken repeated his message, saying “we have a new chapter, but it’s a new one we are together. write together. “
“We are grateful for your people, for your country, for your administration,” said Abdullah.
NATO immediately followed Biden’s lead on Wednesday, saying about 7,000 of its non-American forces in Afghanistan would depart within months, ending a foreign military presence that had become The truth of a generation of Afghans has been reeling for over 40 years. of the conflict.
Blinken arrived in the Afghan capital from Brussels, where he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin briefed NATO officials of the US decision and were quickly agreed to end the mission of Resolute Assistance by the allies. of them in Afghanistan.
Biden, Blinken and Austin all tried to show a brave face, asserting that US and NATO-led missions to Afghanistan achieved their goal of destroying the al-Qaida network of Osama bin Laden, who launched the 9/11 attacks. and wiping out the country of terrorists who could use Afghanistan to carry out similar attacks.
However, that argument has met with opposition from a number of US lawmakers and human rights advocates, who argue that the withdrawal will result in the loss of the freedoms enjoyed by the Afghans. when the Taliban was overthrown in late 2001.
“My opinion is very pessimistic,” Naheed Farid, a member of parliament, told reporters when asked her thoughts about her country’s future. Farid was one of half a dozen, mostly women, of civilian leaders who met Blinken at the US Embassy in Kabul. She did not say clearly.
Despite billions of dollars in aid, 20 years after the invasion, more than half of the 36 million Afghans live on less than $ 1.90 a day, according to World Bank data. Afghanistan is also considered one of the worst countries in the world for women’s rights and well-being, according to the Georgetown Security and Women Institute of Peace.
For many Afghans, the past two decades have been disappointing, as corruption swept through successive governments and powerful lords amassed wealth and well-armed loyal militias. . Many Afghans fear the turmoil will worsen once the United States leaves.
At a press conference in the capital before leaving, Blinken said that while the US was withdrawing its military forces, it was stepping up its engagement with the Afghan government and people and would continue to support funding. key to the Afghan National Security Forces. Washington spends $ 4 billion a year to maintain Afghanistan’s security forces.
“Our partnership with Afghanistan is long-term. We will always be together in the future, ”Blinken promised.
Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are at a standstill but are expected to resume later this month in Istanbul, though the Taliban have yet to say whether they will participate.
Blinken has issued stern warnings to the religious militia, saying it would never gain the international recognition it wanted if it pushed Afghanistan into a civil war rather than accepting wars. peace negotiations.
“It is important that the Taliban realize that it will never be legal and that it will never last if it rejects the political process and tries to take the country by force,” he said. to speak.
Under an agreement signed between the Trump administration and the Taliban last year, the US will complete the withdrawal on May 1. Although Biden is going past that deadline, angered Taliban leaders, He called for the withdrawal to begin in May. 1. NATO withdrawal will begin on the same day.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed on Wednesday warned that “matters will be complicated” if the US misses the May 1 withdrawal deadline. The uprising movement has yet to respond to Biden’s surprise announcement that the withdrawal will only begin on that day.
During a meeting with the staff at the US Embassy in Kabul, Blinken said he understood this was a “real transition” time for the entire US mission in Afghanistan and it was “particularly stressful” because the instability raised by Biden’s announcement. challenges they have faced, including the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Blinken also assured the mission’s Afghan staff that a special US visa program would be protected. The program allows for easier access to visas for Afghans already working for the United States and, as a result, they can put themselves in jeopardy.
In his statement in Washington on Tuesday, Biden said it was “the end of America’s longest war”. But he added that the United States would “not proceed in a hurry to get out.”
Biden, along with Blinken and Austin in Brussels, also pledged that the United States will continue to engage with the people and development of Afghanistan.
Austin said that the US military, after withdrawing from Afghanistan, will maintain its anti-terrorism “capability” in the region to continue to put pressure on extremist groups operating within Afghanistan. When asked for details, he declined to be clear about the locations of those US forces or by what number.