President Biden expressed concern Friday about the Afghan government’s ability to withstand coup attempts from the Taliban, even as the U.S. military withdrawal from the war-torn country nears completion.
Biden — who has ordered a complete troop drawdown in Afghanistan by Sept. 11 — told reporters at the White House that the U.S. pullout is proceeding at a “rational” pace. He spoke just as word came from the Pentagon that American soldiers have vacated the Bagram Air Base, the main U.S. military outpost in Afghanistan, for the first time since war broke out in the country 20 years ago.
But in the next breath, Biden suggested he’s not entirely confident in the stability of President Ashraf Ghani’s government.
“I think they have the capacity to be able to sustain the government,” Biden said, “but I am concerned that they deal with the internal issues that they have to be able to generate the type of support they need nationwide to maintain the government.”
Hawkish foreign policy advocates are fretting that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will create a vacuum in which the Taliban can topple Ghani’s government and roll back decades of gains in human rights and democracy.
According to reports, Taliban fighters have waged an aggressive military campaign against Afghan government forces in recent weeks, overrunning a number of rural districts.
The U.S. pullback from the Bagram Air Base also marks a symbolic victory for the Taliban in that the base has since 2001 been the epicenter for the American effort to push back the Islamist movement and track down allied al-Qaida terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and on the Pentagon.
The Taliban celebrated the U.S. withdrawal from Bagram, with the movement’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, tweeting that it’s a “positive step” toward the complete “withdrawal of foreign forces from all parts of the country.”
It appears likely that nearly all of the remaining 4,000 American troops in Afghanistan will leave the country well ahead of Biden’s Sept. 11 deadline.
Despite voicing some concern about the situation on the ground, Biden suggested the U.S. no longer has any meaningful role to play in Afghanistan.
“We were in that war for 20 years — 20 years,” he said.
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