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Blinken flies to Afghanistan after Biden’s pull-out announcement

WASHNGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to Kabul on Thursday to show support for the Afghan government and civil society a day after President Joe Biden said he was pulling out American forces after nearly 20 years of war.

Biden said U. objectives in Afghanistan had become “increasingly unclear” over the past decade and set a deadline for withdrawing all US troops remaining in Afghanistan by September 11, exactly two decades after Al-Qaeda’s attacks on the United States that triggered the war.

Foreign troops under NATO command will also withdraw from Afghanistan in coordination with the US pullout. Blinken, arriving in Kabul after attending NATO talks in Brussels, met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, whose government remains embroiled in fierce fighting with Taliban insurgents.

The top U.S. diplomat tried to reassure Ghani that despite the departure of US troops, the United States would remain committed to Afghanistan, saying Washington will “intensify” its diplomacy to do “everything we can” to advance efforts to secure a peace agreement between Kabul and the insurgents.

“The reason I’m here, so quickly after the president’s speech last night, is to demonstrate literally, by our presence, that we have an enduring an ongoing commitment to Afghanistan,” Blinken said at the embassy, according to a press pool report.

The foreign troop withdrawals have raised concerns that the country could erupt in full-scale civil war, providing Al-Qaeda space in which to rebuild and plan new attacks on US and other targets.

During his eight-hour visit, Blinken met with advocates of women’s rights, disability rights, youth and media freedom, who “shared their concerns about the Taliban’s intent as well as a strong desire for peace,” a State Department statement said.

During a press conference at the heavily fortified US embassy, Blinken said Washington will continue its humanitarian support to Afghanistan and advocacy for the rights of women and girls.

In his meeting with Ghani, Blinken assured the Afghan president that “the partnership is changing, but the partnership is enduring.” At his press conference at the embassy, Blinken warned the Taliban that any attack on American troops as they pulled out would be met with “a very forceful response.”

He also met with Abdullah Abdullah, the head of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, who expressed support for the US decision.

“This does not mean the end of relations and cooperation between the two countries. A new chapter of relations and cooperation between the two countries has returned and we will continue our cooperation in various fields in this chapter,” Abdullah said in a statement.

The Taliban reiterated a call for an “immediate” withdrawal of all foreign forces, accusing Washington of breaching a February 2020 accord to complete a US troop pullout by May 1.

The fate of the peace talks remained uncertain with the Taliban saying they would not attend a planned conference in Turkey until all foreign forces leave Afghanistan.