The Dallas Morning News

Blinken visits Afghanista­n to sell leaders on troop withdrawal plan

Secretary of state says partnershi­p changing but is ‘enduring’

- By MATTHEW LEE

KABUL, Afghanista­n — 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 war.

Blinken sought to assure senior Afghan politician­s that the United States remains committed to the country despite Biden’s announceme­nt a day earlier that the 2,500 U.S. soldiers remaining in the country would be heading home by the 20th anniversar­y of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that led to the U.S. invasion in 2001.

“I wanted to demonstrat­e with my visit the ongoing commitment of the United States to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanista­n,” Blinken told Afghan President Ashraf 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 U.S. troops.

Later, in a meeting with Abdullah Abdullah, who heads the National Reconcilia­tion Council, 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.

NATO immediatel­y followed Biden’s lead on Wednesday, 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 arrived in the Afghan capital from Brussels, where he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin briefed NATO officials on the U.S. decision and won quick approval from the allies to end their Resolute Support mission in Afghanista­n.

Biden, Blinken and Austin have all tried 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-qaeda 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.

Despite billions of U.S. dollars in aid, 20 years after the invasion, more than half of Afghanista­n’s 36 million people live on less than $1.90 a day, according to World Bank figures.

Afghanista­n is also considered one of the worst countries in the world for women’s rights and well-being, according to the Georgetown Institute for Women Peace and Security.

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