Biden, Ghani Meet: Troop Withdrawal, Peace Process Discussed

Kabul: US President Joe Biden and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani met on Friday and discussed the winding down of the Resolute Support Mission and with that the transition to a new relationship with Afghanistan and with the Afghan forces.

Both sides reaffirmed the importance of ensuring that Afghanistan never again serves as a safe haven for terrorists. On Friday, Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) met Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon. The meeting came the day after the US announced plans to evacuate thousands of Afghans who worked for the US military ahead of the withdrawal. Many fear reprisals from the Taliban.

US President Joe Biden has said that Afghans “are going to have to decide their future”, however, he promised continued support for the country. Speaking in the Oval Office, Biden called himself and Ghani “two old friends”, and said the partnership between the US and Afghanistan “is not ending”. “Our troops may be leaving, but support for Afghanistan is not ending,” he said. But he stressed that it was up to Afghans to decide “what they want”, adding: “The senseless violence, it has to stop. It’s going to be very difficult.”

Ghani meanwhile said that he supported Joe Biden’s “historic” decision to withdraw US troops, saying he was there to “respect it and support it”. He also announced that Afghan security forces had recaptured six districts, reversing some recent Taliban gains. “You will see that with determination, with unity and with the partnership, we will overcome all odds,” he said. Ghani also said that he has not asked US President Joe Biden to delay the pullout of US troops despite a renewed Taliban offensive, and that other nations should “bet” on his government in Kabul and not the rebels. However, he acknowledged the decision to withdraw would have an enormous impact on the region.

“President Biden’s decision is a transformational decision that is going to have consequential results both for the people of Afghanistan and for the people of the United States in the region,” Ghani said.

When asked about reported US intelligence estimates that the Taliban insurgency may be back in charge in Kabul within six months after US and foreign troops leave in September, Ghani said, “There have been many such predictions and they have all turned out false.” “The United States remains committed to continuing to provide critical security assistance to the Afghan national defense and security forces. I am confident that as [Operation] Resolute Support begins to wind down, we will make the transition to a new relationship with Afghanistan and the Afghan forces,” Austin said. Earlier this week the UN expressed alarm at their gains.

US officials acknowledge that many post-pullout details are still being worked out. The only certainty is that, except for an increased security presence to protect the US diplomatic mission in Kabul, no American military personnel will remain in Afghanistan. Austin insisted that the US remains “deeply invested” in Afghan security and the pursuit of a negotiated power-sharing deal with the Taliban, despite Biden’s withdrawal order ending a 20-year combat mission in the country.

US and NATO officials have recently said that the Taliban have so far failed to live up to commitments to reduce violence in Afghanistan. Abdullah Abdullah also said that there was “perhaps more optimism” about a peace deal when the negotiations began because “the Taliban said things to different interlocutors that created optimism.”

He said that long-stalled talks on a political settlement to decades of strife should not be abandoned despite surging Taliban attacks, unless the insurgents themselves pull out. “I think we shouldn’t shut the door unless it’s completely shut by the Taliban,” Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, told Reuters in an interview. “We can’t say no to talks despite a lack of progress or in spite of what’s happening on the ground.”

Abdullah spoke after he and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met US President Joe Biden at the White House for talks on US military and civilian aid, and issues stemming from the departure of the last US troops nearly 20 years after the US-led invasion.

Abdullah said there was “perhaps more optimism” about a peace deal when the negotiations began because “the Taliban said things to different interlocutors that created optimism.” “Eventually, the last man killed will not be a solution,” he said. “There has to be a peaceful settlement.”

On the other hand, the US is preparing to evacuate up to 25,000 collaborators as it withdraws from Afghanistan, including interpreters, drivers, security guards, and clerks, among others, over fears they will be targeted for working with an occupation that has killed tens of thousands over the past two decades. President Ghani said that his government would do what it can to help secure the release of an American contractor abducted more than a year ago, though he said President Joe Biden didn’t press him on the matter during a White House meeting.

Mark Frerichs, a contractor from Lombard, Illinois, was kidnapped in January 2020 from Kabul and is believed to be in the custody of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network. US officials have said that Frerichs’ captivity has been raised during negotiations with the Taliban, but they have not revealed anything about his suspected whereabouts or disclosed details of those discussions.

Asked whether Frerichs came up during a conversation earlier in the afternoon with Biden, Ghani said it did not. But he said “we will do everything in our power” to help facilitate Frerichs’ release.

Meanwhile, at a time when President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah were meeting with US President Joe Biden, a number of Afghans living in Washington, protested in front of the White House against the genocide of Hazaras in Afghanistan. The protest took place in front of the White House on Friday, and protesters accused the Afghan government of failing to protect Hazaras and Shiites from targeted attacks.

The protesters called for an immediate end to the genocide of Hazaras and Shiites, an end to the war and a ceasefire, and the establishment of a decentralized regime in Afghanistan. Akram Gizabi, chairman of the Hazara International Council, who took part in the protest, said that the Afghan government should take action to prevent the Hazara genocide.

Referring to the current situation in Afghanistan, Gizabi said, “Peace with a terrorist group and giving value and legitimacy to a terrorist group that still kills men, women and children and burns schools and destroys everything, is a big mistake.”

The protesters also stressed that the US government had put Afghanistan in a bad situation with its early withdrawal. In recent months, however, deadly terrorist attacks have increased in western Kabul, and the victims are Afghan Hazara civilians and Shiites.

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