Biden urges Afghans to decide their future

Biden urges Afghans to decide their future

US President Joe Biden met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Friday and his old political rival, Abdullah Abdullah, at the White House, where he urged Afghans to determine their country’s future as the final US troops leave after a 20-year war and government forces battle Taliban gains.

In the Oval Office, Biden sat next to Ghani and Abdullah and referred to them as “two old friends,” saying that US assistance for Afghanistan will continue despite the US withdrawal.

“Afghans are going to have to decide their future, what they want,” said Biden, saying the “senseless violence has to stop.”

Afghan security forces retook six districts on Friday, according to Ghani. He said he appreciated Biden’s decision and that the US-Afghanistan relationship is entering a new chapter.

“We are determined to have unity, coherence,” he said.

Following the discussion, Ghani told reporters that the US decision to remove troops was a sovereign choice, and that it was up to Kabul to “manage the consequences.”

He went on to say that Biden had made it plain that the US embassy would remain open and that security assistance would continue, although at a faster pace in certain instances.

After the Biden meeting, Abdullah told Reuters that delayed intra-Afghan negotiations on a political solution to decades of conflict should not be abandoned until the militants actually withdraw.

“I think we shouldn’t shut the door unless it’s completely shut by the Taliban,” Abdullah said. “We can’t say no to talks despite a lack of progress or in spite of what’s happening on the ground.”

The visit in the Oval Office may be as important to Ghani as any fresh US assistance since it would be viewed as reaffirming Biden’s support for the embattled Afghan leader as he battles Taliban advances, bombings and murders, a spike in COVID-19 cases, and political infighting in Kabul.

“At a time when morale is incredibly shaky and things are going downhill, anything one can do to help shore up morale and shore up the government is worth doing,” said Ronald Neumann, a former US ambassador to Kabul. “Inviting Ghani here is a pretty strong sign that we’re backing him.”

However, Biden’s acceptance comes only months after US officials pressed Ghani to stand down for a transitional administration under a draught political agreement presented in a failed attempt to break the deadlock in peace negotiations.

Biden has requested Congress to authorize $3.3 billion in security aid for Afghanistan next year, and he is sending 3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccinations to the country.

Biden will not stop the US withdrawal, which is expected to be completed in the coming weeks, and he is unlikely to authorize any US military support to Kabul to halt the Taliban’s gains beyond advise, information, and aircraft maintenance, according to US sources.

Earlier, the Afghan leaders gathered for a second day on Capitol Hill, where many members of both parties objected to Biden’s decision to leave.

Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi said she was looking forward to hearing more about what more can be done with US humanitarian assistance, particularly for women and girls, as she welcomed Ghani to a bipartisan leadership meeting.

Many legislators and academics are concerned that if the Taliban retake power, they would undo gains achieved on women’s and girls’ rights, which were severely suppressed and banned from school and employment during the insurgents’ reign from 1996 to 2001.

The meeting between Ghani and Abdullah comes as the peace process in Afghanistan has stagnated and bloodshed has erupted as Afghan security forces battle a Taliban spring assault that threatens several provincial capitals and has prompted ethnic militias to support government soldiers.

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