U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chairman of Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah at the White House, in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

US President Joe Biden has said that the “American support for Afghanistan was not ending but would be sustained despite the US pullout.”

President Biden stated this during a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his former political foe, Abdullah Abdullah, on Friday at the White House where he called on Afghans to decide the future of their country as the last US troops pack up after 20 years of war and government forces struggle to repel Taliban advances.

Biden, seated beside Ghani and Abdullah in the Oval Office, called them “two old friends”.

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

Ghani said Afghan security forces had retaken six districts on Friday. He said he respected Biden’s decision and that the partnership between the United States and Afghanistan is entering a new phase.

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

Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Ghani said the United States’ decision to withdraw troops was a sovereign one and it was Kabul’s job to “manage consequences.”

He added that Biden had clearly articulated that the US embassy would continue to operate and security aid would continue and in some cases move on an accelerated schedule.

Abdullah said in a Reuters interview after the Biden meeting that stalled intra-Afghan talks on a political settlement to decades of strife should not be abandoned unless the insurgents themselves pull out.

“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 Oval Office meeting could 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.

“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.”

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 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.

US officials have been clear that Biden will not halt the American pullout – likely to be completed in the coming weeks -and he is unlikely to approve any US military support to Kabul to halt the Taliban’s advances beyond advice, intelligence, and aircraft maintenance.

Earlier, the Afghan leaders met for a second day on Capitol Hill, where Biden’s withdrawal decision met objections from many members of both parties.

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, welcoming Ghani to a bipartisan leadership meeting, said she looked forward to hearing about what more can be done with US humanitarian aid, especially for women and girls.

Many lawmakers and experts have expressed deep concerns that the Taliban – if returned to power – will reverse progress made on the rights of women and girls, who were harshly repressed and barred from education and work during the insurgents’ 1996-2001 rule.

The story was filed by the News Desk.
The Desk can be reached at info@thecorrespondent.com.pk.

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