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Blinken to Sell Afghan Troop Withdrawal04/15 06:08

   U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to 
Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and a wary public on President 
Joe Biden's decision to withdraw all American troops from the country and end 
America's longest-running war.

   KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an 
unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and a wary 
public on President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw all American troops from 
the country and end America's longest-running war.

   Blinken was meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, chief executive 
Abdullah Abdullah, and civic figures, a day after Biden announced that the 
remaining 2,500 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan would be coming home by the 20th 
anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that led to the U.S. invasion.

   His trip also came after NATO immediately followed suit, saying its roughly 
7,000 non-American forces in Afghanistan would be departing within a few 
months, ending the foreign military presence that had been a fact of life for a 
generation of Afghans already reeling from more than 40 years of conflict.

   Blinken sought to reassure the Afghan leadership that the withdrawal did not 
mean an end to the U.S.-Afghan relationship.

   "I wanted to demonstrate with my visit the ongoing to commitment of the 
United States to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanistan," Blinken 
told Ghani as they met at the presidential palace in Kabul. "The partnership is 
changing, but the partnership itself is enduring."

   "We respect the decision and are adjusting our priorities," Ghani told 
Blinken, expressing gratitude for the sacrifices of US troops.

   Blinken arrived in the Afghan capital from Brussels where he and Defense 
Secretary Lloyd Austin briefed NATO officials on the move and NATO chief Jens 
Stoltenberg announced the alliance would also be leaving.

   The Taliban's spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed warned Wednesday that "problems 
will be compounded," if the U.S. misses a May 1 deadline for withdrawal set 
during the Trump administration. The insurgent movement has yet to respond to 
Biden's surprise announcement that the pullout would only start on that date.

   Biden, Blinken, Austin and Stoltenberg have all sought to put a brave face 
on the pullout, maintaining that the U.S.- and NATO-led missions to Afghanistan 
had achieved their goal of decimating Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network that 
launched the 9/11 attacks and clearing the country of terrorist elements that 
could use Afghan soil to plot similar strikes.

   However, that argument has faced pushback from some U.S, lawmakers and human 
rights advocates who say the withdrawal will result in the loss of freedoms 
that Afghans enjoyed after the Taliban was ousted from power in late 2001.

   Later, in a meeting with Abdullah, Blinken repeated his message, saying that 
"we have a new chapter, but it is a new chapter that we're writing together."

   "We are grateful to your people, your country, your administration," 
Abdullah said.

   Despite billions of U.S. dollars in aid, Afghanistan 20 years on has a 
poverty rate of 52 per cent according to World Bank figures. That means more 
than half of Afghanistan's 36 million people live on less than $1.90 a day. 
Afghanistan is also considered one of the worst countries in the world to be a 
woman according to the Georgetown Institute for Women Peace and Security.

   For many Afghans the past two decades have been disappointing, as corruption 
has overtaken successive governments and powerful warlords have amassed wealth 
and loyal militias who are well armed. Many Afghans fear worsening chaos even 
more once America leaves.

   Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are at a stalemate 
but are supposed to resume later this month in Istanbul.

   Under an agreement signed between the Trump administration and the Taliban 
last year, the U.S. was to have completed its military withdrawal by May 1. 
Although Biden is blowing through that deadline, angering the Taliban 
leadership, his plan calls for the pull-out to begin on May 1. The NATO 
withdrawal will commence the same day.

   "It is time to end America's longest war," Biden said in his announcement in 
Washington on Tuesday, but he added that the U.S. will "not conduct a hasty 
rush to the exit."

   "We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military 
presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our 
withdrawal, expecting a different result," said Biden, who delivered his 
address from the White House Treaty Room, the same location where President 
George W. Bush announced the start of the war. "I am now the fourth United 
States president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two 
Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth."

   Biden, along with Blinken and Austin in Brussels, vowed that the U.S. would 
remain committed to Afghanistan's people and development.

   "Bringing our troops home does not mean ending our relationship with 
Afghanistan or our support for the country," Blinken said. "Our support, our 
engagement and our determination remain."

   Austin also said that the U.S. military, after withdrawing from Afghanistan, 
will keep counterterrorism "capabilities" in the region to keep pressure on 
extremist groups operating within Afghanistan. Asked for details, he declined 
to elaborate on where those U.S. forces would be positioned or in what numbers.

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