US Secretary of State Antony Blinken paid an unexpected visit to Kabul on Thursday to show support for the Afghan government and civil society, a day after President Joe Biden said he was withdrawing US forces after nearly 20 years of war.
Biden said US targets in Afghanistan had become “increasingly unclear” over the past decade and set a deadline to withdraw all US troops remaining in Afghanistan on September 11, exactly two decades after al Qaeda’s attacks on the US that triggered the war. .
Foreign troops under NATO leadership will also withdraw from Afghanistan in coordination with US extracts.
Blinken, who arrived in Kabul after taking part in NATO talks in Brussels, met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, whose government is still involved in fierce fighting with the Taliban insurgents while a US-backed peace process is embedded in insecurity.
The United States’ top diplomat sought to reassure Ghani that despite US troops leaving, the United States would remain committed to Afghanistan, saying Washington would “intensify” its diplomacy to do “all we can” to advance efforts to secure a peace agreement between Kabul and the insurgency.
“The reason I am here, so soon after the President’s speech last night, is to literally, through our presence, show that we have a lasting commitment to Afghanistan,” Blinken said at the embassy, according to a press pool report. .
The withdrawal of foreign troops has raised concerns that the country may break out in full-scale civil war and give al-Qaeda space to rebuild and plan new attacks on the United States and other targets.
The Taliban have also not given up on their goal of re-establishing Islamist rule, which has given rise to fears that they would turn gains in women’s rights, education, independent media and other areas if they return to power.
During his eight-hour visit, Blinken met advocates for women’s rights, disability rights, youth and media freedom, who “shared their concern about the Taliban’s intention and a strong desire for peace,” said a statement from the Foreign Ministry.
During a press conference at the heavily fortified US embassy, Blinken said that Washington will continue its humanitarian support for Afghanistan and advocate for the rights of women and girls.
In his meeting with Ghani, Blinken assured the Afghan president that “the partnership is changing, but the partnership will last.”
At his press conference at the embassy, where he previously greeted American soldiers, Blinken warned the Taliban that all attacks on American troops when they pulled out would be met with “a very powerful response”.
He also met with Abdullah Abdullah, the head of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, who expressed support for US decisions.
“This does not mean that relations and cooperation between the two countries will end. A new chapter on relations and cooperation between the two countries has returned and we will continue our cooperation in different areas in this chapter, says Abdullah in a statement.
Even when Blinken visited Kabul, the Taliban reiterated a call for an “immediate” withdrawal of all foreign forces and accused Washington of violating an agreement in February 2020 – secured by the Trump administration – to complete a US troop deployment by May 1.
The Taliban’s statement appeared to pose an implicit threat and warned that “in principle” their warriors would “take all necessary countermeasures, which is why the American side will be held accountable for all future consequences.”
They also said that they “under no circumstances will ever rely” on their goal of establishing a “purely Islamic system”, which underlines a profound difference with Kabul over the type of government system that should be established in a peace agreement.
As the fate of the peace talks remained uncertain, with the Taliban not participating in a planned conference in Turkey until all foreign forces leave Afghanistan, Blinken remained hopeful.
“We are waiting to see a definitive response from the Taliban on their participation,” he said. “The goal is … to speed up the peace process. The collection will be supported by high participation from the international community. ”
Some US officials and experts are concerned about the continued presence in Afghanistan of al-Qaeda and Islamic State extremists, worried that the former will be able to rebuild and plan new attacks on Western targets.
Speaking to CNN, Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, acknowledged that the US withdrawal would result in less intelligence. But he said the United States could still detect threats to US homeland from Afghanistan.
“In my opinion, our ability to protect the American homeland will not diminish,” Sullivan said. “Our ability to gather intelligence daily against actors in Afghanistan will come and go, will diminish. It’s a big difference. ”
“From our perspective, we can set the kind of scenario where we can protect this country without remaining at war in Afghanistan for the third decade.”
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 when they were ousted by US-led forces. A US-backed government has been in power ever since, even though the Taliban control much of the country.