Biden to meet with Afghanistan leaders amid Taliban resurgence, US troop withdrawal

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WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden will meet with Afghan leaders at the White House on Friday amid an ongoing U.S. military withdrawal as Afghanistan’s future remains in limbo.

The president’s meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, head of the country’s High Council for National Reconciliation, comes as U.S.-backed peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have stalled.

Meanwhile, the militant Islamic group has gained new territory at an alarming clip in recent weeks. Renewed fighting has stoked fears that the Taliban will topple the Afghan government once American and NATO forces have left.

Indeed, Afghanistan’s former president Hamid Karzai said the U.S.-led war is ending in “disaster.”

Abdullah Abdullah, chief executive officer of Afghanistan, left, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, President Obama and Vice President Biden meet in the Oval Office of the White House on March 24, 2015.

Abdullah Abdullah, chief executive officer of Afghanistan, left, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, President Obama and Vice President Biden meet in the Oval Office of the White House on March 24, 2015.

“The international community came here 20 years ago with this clear objective of fighting extremism and bringing stability … but extremism is at the highest point today,” Karzai told the Associated Press on Sunday.

They are leaving Afghanistan “in total disgrace and disaster,” Karzai said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. was withdrawing militarily from Afghanistan but not disengaging from the country’s future.

“We intend to continue our support to humanitarian, economic (and) development programs, including support for women and girls,” Blinken told reporters on Thursday during a trip to Europe.

Blinken said the White House knows “there’s a real danger” the Taliban will try to retake the country by force and “that we’ll see a renewal of a war or possibly worse. … That’s a hard reality,” he said.

Ahead of Friday’s meeting, the Biden administration confirmed it would relocate thousands of Afghans who worked with the U.S. military as interpreters and translators while their visa applications are being vetted, according to a senior administration official.

That decision came amid growing pressure from lawmakers in both parties who fear those Afghans who served alongside American troops will be killed by the Taliban as the U.S. completes its military withdrawal.

20 years of war in Afghanistan

In April, Biden announced the U.S. would withdraw all troops by Sept. 11, the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that triggered America’s longest war. He said the U.S. had achieved its goals of routing al-Qaida.

“We delivered justice to Bin Laden a decade ago, and we’ve stayed in Afghanistan a decade since then,” Biden said in an April 14 speech, referring to the 2011 killing of Osama Bin Laden, the onetime leader of the al-Qaida terrorist network.

In announcing Friday’s meeting, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Biden administration remains committed to working with the Afghan government “to ensure the country never again becomes a safe haven for terrorist groups who pose a threat to the U.S. homeland.”

Psaki said the U.S. will continue to press “all Afghan parties to participate” in the peace negotiations, which supporters say could lead to a power-sharing agreement between Ghani’s government and the Taliban.

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan was set in motion by former President Donald Trump. Under an agreement Trump’s advisers brokered with the Taliban, the U.S. agreed to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan and the Taliban promised to sever its ties with al-Qaida and end its attacks on American forces.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP lawmakers have blasted Biden’s decision to complete the withdrawal that Trump began.

“President Ashraf Ghani and Chairman Abdullah Abdullah will arrive in Washington as a grave situation in their country rapidly deteriorates,” McConnell, R-Ky., said earlier this week.

Without U.S. military assistance, “our Afghan partners are struggling to hold back the Taliban onslaught,” he said. “In just the two months since the president’s announcement, extremist militants have retaken control of at least 30 of Afghanistan’s administrative districts.”

Worry for Afghan women

Blinken and others say the Taliban has not fulfilled all its commitments, chiefly the promise to cut ties with al-Qaida, and Republicans in Congress fear the U.S. withdrawal will allow the Taliban to reinstate its brutally repressive laws on the Afghan people – particularly women.

Biden’s ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, warned that a Taliban-led Afghanistan would not enjoy international recognition if its fighters retake the country by force and reimpose its repressive Islamic rule.

Afghan women team walk together in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in October 2019.

Afghan women team walk together in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in October 2019.

“There is only one way forward: a negotiated and inclusive political settlement through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process,” Thomas-Greenfield said at the UN on Tuesday.

“We must push for meaningful and inclusive negotiations – with the full participation of women – that will lead to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, and a just and durable political settlement,” she said. “To the Taliban, we reiterate that the military path will not lead to legitimacy.”

A man cries over the body of a victim of deadly bombings on Saturday near a school, at a cemetery west of Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 9, 2021. The Interior Ministry said Sunday the death toll in the horrific bombing at the entrance to a girls' school in the Afghan capital has soared to some 50 people, many of them pupils between 11 and 15 years old, and the number of wounded in Saturday's attack has also climbed to more than 100.

A man cries over the body of a victim of deadly bombings on Saturday near a school, at a cemetery west of Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 9, 2021. The Interior Ministry said Sunday the death toll in the horrific bombing at the entrance to a girls’ school in the Afghan capital has soared to some 50 people, many of them pupils between 11 and 15 years old, and the number of wounded in Saturday’s attack has also climbed to more than 100.

Contributing: Associated Press

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden to meet with Afghanistan president as Taliban claims resurgence



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