Blinken’s visit comes on the heels of President Biden’s decision on Wednesday to bring all of the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops home and end the conflict that has plagued his predecessors over the past two decades.
Despite their longstanding concerns about the United States’ departure, Afghan leaders publicly embraced Biden’s decision and thanked officials for their coordination prior to the announcement. In a conference room in the ornate presidential palace in Kabul, Ghani told Blinkin, “We respect [President Biden’s] The decision and we are adjusting our priorities. ”In his meeting with Abdullah, the chairman said that the withdrawal represents just a new“ chapter ”in US-Afghan relations.
Blinken said that through my visit he “wanted to demonstrate the continued commitment of the United States to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanistan.”
“The partnership is changing, but the partnership itself remains,” he said.
Behind every discussion in Afghanistan looms the specter of a possible Taliban takeover of Kabul after the US departure in the fall.
For years, the United States tried and failed to apply military and political pressure in Afghanistan in hopes of persuading the Taliban to formulate a decision with the US-backed Afghan government. With few options remaining, US officials are hoping that a decisive withdrawal may spur the peace process rather than push the country into more violence as some have expected.
Meet Afghan officials face-to-face It will not be easyAnalysts said.
No matter how it is divided, it will be difficult for many Afghans to accept the withdrawal announcement. “There is no way to smooth over a political decision that is very likely to exacerbate instability in a country that has been at war for 40 years,” said Michael Kugelman, Afghan researcher at the Wilson Center.
“The best bet for US officials is to reassure Kabul and the Afghan people that a military withdrawal does not mean a total abandonment,” he added.
This is exactly the message a senior State Department official said would be conveyed.
The American commitment is strong. The official said, “We are ending our direct military role, but this does not mean that we end our relationship.”
After his meetings with Ghani and Abdullah, Blinken met with members of Afghan civil society, including journalists, a member of parliament, and women’s rights leaders who would likely be affected by the departure of the United States. While waiting for Blinken’s arrival, Afghan MP Nahid Farid expressed her concern about the future of her country. “My views are very pessimistic,” she said, without elaborating.
Prior to the meeting, the State Department official acknowledged that civil society leaders “will be concerned about what will change” as US and NATO forces leave the country.
“They are really in a difficult situation,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the delicate political situation. There is a war going on now. There have been targeted killings in the last month or so. Some [the killings] The Taliban did it, and some of them did [Islamic State]. “
The stopover in Afghanistan is an important step in what the Biden administration describes as a responsible end to the conflict. Blinken traveled to Afghanistan from Brussels, where he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin brought the case to European and Canadian allies that it was time to end the 10,000-strong NATO mission, a move that had the unanimous support of 30 servicemen. alliance.
In statements at NATO headquarters, Blinken and Austin said the United States would continue to pay the salaries of the Afghan security forces, help them maintain counterterrorism capabilities and provide substantial humanitarian and economic aid to the country.
“We will continue to support the rights of Afghan women and girls, and minorities who advocate their meaningful participation in the ongoing negotiations and their equal representation in all parts of society, and we will continue to provide substantial humanitarian aid to those in need,” Blinken said.
During a press conference in Kabul, Blinken was asked how the United States would avoid a comeback in the late 1980s, when the West had largely forgotten about Afghanistan after the Soviet Union withdrew.
The difference is that the United States will not be forgotten, Blinken said, and he reiterated his pledge to “support” the Afghan army and civil society while applying diplomatic pressure to bring countries together in the region “to advance peace.”
While Afghanistan’s leaders gave the United States a positive vote, Blinken also flamboyantly praised Afghanistan’s economic and cultural progress in recent years despite extreme poverty, endemic corruption and recurrent violence. In a meeting with American soldiers at the US embassy in Kabul, Blinken noted their achievements. He said, “What you and your ancestors have done over the past 20 years is really extraordinary.”
The main challenge for US officials has been trying to hold peace talks between the Taliban and the US-backed Afghan government. The stalled discussions are supposed to resume in the coming days in Istanbul.
The Biden administration’s decision to withdraw drew immediate criticism from Republican leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senator Lindsay O. Graham of South Carolina, who argued that the United States would lose its leverage to force concessions from the Taliban.
Biden addressed those criticisms in his speech on Wednesday, saying time had proven these arguments wrong. Biden said: “I know that there are many who will insist loudly that diplomacy cannot succeed without a strong US military presence to act as a pressure force.” We have made this argument for a decade. It was never proven effective – not when we had 98,000 troops in Afghanistan, not when our number dropped to a few thousand. “