“Our troops may be leaving but our support for Afghanistan is not ending in terms of support and maintenance of helping maintain their military as well as economic and political support,” U.S. President Joe Biden said
As violence increases in Afghanistan with the Taliban making territorial gains, U.S. President Joe Biden met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Chairman of its High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, in the Oval Office on Friday. The meeting comes as the U.S. approaches a September 11 deadline to withdraw its troops from the country.
With the Afghan leaders in the Oval Office, Mr. Biden pledged the U.S.’s economic and political support. A handful of reporters were permitted to be present during cursory remarks prior to the meetings beginning.
“Our troops may be leaving but our support for Afghanistan is not ending in terms of support and maintenance of helping maintain their military as well as economic and political support,” Mr. Biden said, adding that the Afghan’s had to determine their future.
“Afghans are going to have to decide their future, what they want,” he said. “The senseless violence has to stop but it’s going to be very difficult. But we’re going to stick with you and we’re going to do our best to see to it you have the tools you need,” he added.
The U.S. President was joined by Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Sumona Guha, who is the Senior South Asia Director at the National Security Council, USAID Administrator Samantha Power and others for the bilateral. Afghan Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar and National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib were among the representatives on the Afghan side.
The White House released a ‘fact sheet’ on Friday afternoon, highlighting its assistance to Afghanistan including a commitment to provide 3 million Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and $266 million in humanitarian assistance. Mr. Biden has requested the U.S. Congress for $3.3 billion for the Defence Department’s Afghanistan Security Forces Fund, the sheet said.
On Thursday, Mr. Biden said the U.S. would start relocating Afghans who were in danger of being targeted for working with U.S. troops.
Around 650 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan to protect the U.S. Embassy while additional troops will cover the airport until a Turkish-led operation will likely take charge of that facility, the Associated Press reported earlier this week.
On Friday, Mr. Ghani said he respected Mr. Biden’s decision to withdraw troops. He also said that the Afghan forces had recaptured six districts in the South and North.
“Just for your information, today, the Afghan Defence and Security Forces have retaken six districts, both in the south and the north,” Mr. Ghani said. In a number of areas, local security forces have surrendered to the Taliban.
“Let us understand that in great moments of transition, things happen but you will see that with determination, with unity and with the partnership, we will overcome all odds,” he said.
Earlier in the day, following his meeting with Mr. Austin (Mr. Abdullah was also there), Mr. Ghani was asked about a report on a U.S. intelligence assessment that the Afghan government could fall within six months of U.S. troop withdrawal.
“There have been many such predictions, and they have all proven — turned out false.”, Mr. Ghani replied.
After meeting Mr. Ghani, Senate Minority Leader (Republican) Mitch McConnell said that the withdrawal of troops would leave Afghan forces alone to confront threats.
“The Taliban, emboldened by our retreat, is rolling back years of progress, especially for the rights of Afghan women, on its way to taking Kabul,” he said.
Asked how the administration would respond to Mr. McConnell, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday, “ I would first say it’s important to take a step back and remember what we inherited.”
She cited factors including an agreement between the Trump administration and the Taliban that U.S. troops would be withdrawn and the relatively low levels of U.S. and allied forces on the ground.
“That’s the hand we were dealt. The President made a decision — which is consistent with his view that this was not a winnable war — to bring the U.S. troops home, some- — after 20 years of fighting this war. And a big part of that decision was also around the fact that if we left our troops there, our troops would be at risk because the Taliban would be shooting at them by May 1st.”