KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and a wary public on joe-biden” target=”_blank”>President Joe Biden’s< politicians that the United States remains committed to the country despite Biden’s announcement a day earlier that the 2,500 U.S. soldiers remaining in the country would be coming home by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that led to the U.S. invasion in 2001.
“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 Afghan President Ashraf 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.
Later, in a meeting with Abdullah Abdullah, who heads the National Reconciliation Council, 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,” Abdullah said.
NATO immediately followed Biden’s lead on Wednesday, saying its roughly 7,000 non-American forces in Afghanistan would be departing within a few months, ending the foreign military” target=”_blank”>military< capital from Brussels, where he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin briefed NATO officials on the U.S. decision and won quick approval from the allies to end their Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.
Biden, Blinken, Austin have all tried 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.
“My views are very pessimistic,” Naheed Farid, a member of parliament, told reporters when asked her thoughts about the future of her country. Farid was one of a half-dozen, mostly women, civic leaders who met with Blinken at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. She did not elaborate.
FILE – In this Oct. 31, 2018, photo, Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers carry out an exercise during a live firing at the Afghan Military Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Trump administration claims of progress in talks with the Taliban have sparked fears even among allies of the president that his impatience with the war in Afghanistan will lead him to withdraw troops too soon, leaving the country at risk of returning to the same volatile condition that prompted the invasion in the first place. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)
Despite billions of U.S. dollars in aid, 20 years after the invasion, more than half of Afghanistan’s 36 million people live on less than $1.90 a day, according to World Bank figures. Afghanistan is also considered one of the worst countries in the world for women’s rights and wellbeing, 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 the chaos will worsen 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” target=”_blank”>military<
“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.”
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 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.