U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday, a day after President Joe Biden announced all U.S. troops would leave the country by Sept. 11, 2021.
During his visit, Blinken sought to reassure Afghan allies that the U.S. is still committed to peace in Afghanistan despite the troop withdrawal. The Associated Press reported Blinken told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, “I wanted to demonstrate with my visit the ongoing commitment of the United States to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanistan.”
Blinken said, “The partnership is changing, but the partnership itself is enduring.”
Ghani responded, “We respect the decision and are adjusting our priorities.”
Blinken reiterated the assurance when meeting with Abdullah Abdullah, the Afghanistan High Commission for National Reconciliation Chair, saying, “We have a new chapter, but it is a new chapter that we’re writing together.”
Blinken’s efforts to reassure Afghan allies as the Afghan government is still attempting to finalize a peace agreement with the Taliban despite continued Taliban attacks and numerous delays in talks.
Between 2,500 and 3,500 U.S. troops are currently in Afghanistan. There are also about 7,000 additional troops from various North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries.
Following Biden’s announcement on Wednesday, NATO also announced the international troops would begin to withdraw from Afghanistan on May 1.
With the announcements by both Biden and NATO, the number of international troops in Afghanistan is set to fall from about 10,000 to zero within a matter of months.
While Biden’s troop withdrawal plan would reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to zero by Sept. 11, the Taliban has already criticized Biden’s timeline, which pushes back from the May 1 withdrawal timeline agreed to in February 2020, under then-President Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, the Taliban warned, “those who failed to comply with the [May 1 troop withdrawal] agreement will bear the responsibility for that.”
Ahead of Biden’s Wednesday announcement, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said “To say I’m concerned is a vast understatement—this is a reckless and dangerous decision. No one wants a forever war, but I’ve consistently said any withdrawal must be conditions-based. Arbitrary deadlines would likely put our troops in danger, jeopardize all the progress we’ve made, and lead to civil war in Afghanistan—and create a breeding ground for international terrorists.”
The Associated Press reported Biden’s troop withdrawal plan has also drawn concern from human rights advocates, who believe the withdrawal will result in Afghans losing freedoms they gained after the Taliban was ousted from power in late 2001.
“My views are very pessimistic,” Naheed Farid, a female member of Afghanistan’s parliament told reporters, when asked about the country’s future.
Blinken told Afghan allies that the Taliban will not gain international recognition if they once again take over Afghanistan following the U.S. and NATO withdrawals.
“It’s important for the Taliban to recognize that it will never be legitimate and it will never be durable if it rejects the political process and tries to take the country by force,” Blinken said.
A Taliban delegation is due to meet with Afghan government negotiators for peace talks in Istanbul, Turkey later this month, though the Taliban has not committed to attending the peace talks. On Monday, the Associated Press reported Taliban officials had already rejected plans to resume peace talks in Istanbul that were tentatively set to begin on Friday.