As troops get set to leave, Biden to meet Afghan leaders

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White House says Biden’s first meeting as president with Ghani and Abdullah, will focus on ongoing commitment to the Afghan people, reports Asian Lite News

President Joe Biden meets Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, on Friday to discuss Washington’s support for Afghanistan as the last US troops pack up after 20 years of war and government forces struggle to repel Taliban advances.

The Oval Office meeting may be as valuable to Ghani for its symbolism as for any new US help because it will be seen as affirming Biden’s support for the beleaguered Afghan leader as he confronts Taliban gains, bombings and assassinations, a surge in Covid-19 cases and political infighting in Kabul.

Biden’s embrace, however, comes only months after US officials were pressuring Ghani to step aside for a transitional government under a draft political accord that they floated in a failed gambit to break a stalemate in peace talks.

Biden’s first meeting as president with Ghani and Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, will focus on “our ongoing commitment to the Afghan people” and security forces, said White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

Biden has asked Congress to approve $3.3 billion in security assistance for Afghanistan next year and is sending 3 million doses of vaccines there to help it battle Covid-19.

Biden will urge Ghani and Abdullah, foes in Afghanistan’s two last presidential elections, “to be a united front” and he will reaffirm US support for a negotiated peace deal, Jean-Pierre said.

Officials, however, have been clear that Biden will not halt the US pullout – likely to be completed by late July or early August – and he is unlikely to approve any US military support to Kabul to halt the Taliban’s advances beyond advice, intelligence, and aircraft maintenance.

Ghani and Abdullah spent Thursday discussing the situation in Afghanistan with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

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On Thursday, Intelligence has warned that Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, could fall to the Taliban within six months of the departure of the last of the US and international troops. The warning came amid growing international concern about Taliban making gains since May 1, when the US and allied troops began leaving Afghanistan in accordance with a timeline announced by Biden for complete the withdrawal by September 11.

India, a key stakeholder in Afghanistan’s reconstruction, called for a UN-led ceasefire in the country during a UN Security Council debate on Monday, pointing to a sudden escalation in violence in the country since May 1.

The Wall Street Journal reported that US intelligence experts had earlier assessed that the government of President Ghani would survive for two years after the US withdrawal based roughly on the time it took for the fall of Saigon in Vietnam after US troop pull-out in 1975.

Intelligence and military analysts have since revised their assessment and now believe that Kabul could fall in six to 12 months after the departure of American troops, the WSJ reported, adding that officials in other western countries fear the capital could fall far sooner, possibly in three months.

US military has planned to wind up the withdrawal by as soon as July, going down from the 3,500 currently stationed there to zero, barring a small force to be left behind for the protection of American diplomatic missions and officials.

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