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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Afghanistan’s Ghani meets President Biden amid US troop withdrawal


Reports state that Afghan interpreters will be evacuated and may be relocated in Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE and Bahrain, among several other countries.

US President Joe Biden met with Afghan leader Ashraf Ghani and National Reconciliation official Abdullah Abdullah at the White House on Friday, as America’s troop withdrawal continues.

During the meeting, the first between both leaders, Biden said Afghans “are going to have to decide their future” while promising continuous support to Kabul despite a complete withdrawal of US troops by September 11th this year.

“The partnership between Afghanistan and the United States is not ending,” said Biden in an Oval Office meeting with Ghani and Abdullah.

“It is going to be sustained, and you know, our troops are going to be leaving, but our support for Afghanistan is not ending,” he added.

Biden also commended Ghani and Abdullah’s efforts to “bring about unity among Afghan leaders across the board”, while thanking American troops and their families for their service in Afghanistan over the past 20 years.

Ghani and Abdullah also met with House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and officials from the CIA to discuss Afghanistan’s future after the withdrawal.

The US president announced the date of the withdrawal in April this year, extending the initial May 1st deadline despite both the Taliban and Washington agreeing on the date during last year’s February agreement, signed in Doha.

India held ‘quiet’ meeting with Afghan Taliban in Doha

The announcement was later followed by a surge in violence in Kabul, with concerns over the Afghan Taliban seizing several districts in the war-torn country.

“It’s a choice of values, the values of an exclusionary system or inclusionary system. We’re determined to have unity, coherence, national sense of sacrifice, and we’ll not spare anything,” said Ghani.

The Afghan president also noted that his government’s forces had “retaken six districts, both in the south and the north” from the Taliban.

“We will overcome all odds,” he added.

Abdullah, head of Afghanistan’s peace council, also told Reuters on Friday that the stalled peace talks should continue to take place as long even as the Taliban continues its violence.

“I think we shouldn’t shut the door unless it’s completely shut by the Taliban,” he said during his interview with the new agency.

“We can’t say no to talks despite a lack of progress, or in spite of what’s happening on the ground,” he added.

During the same interview, the official said there was “perhaps more optimism” about a peace deal when the talks kicked off as “the Taliban said things to different interlocutors that created optimism.”

Afghan interpreters

The Friday meeting came after a Reuters report stated that the US is will be evacuating some 50,000 people, including several Afghan interpreters and their families before the completion of the troop pull out.

While US officials fell short of disclosing the location where they will be relocated, as well as the total number of people evacuated, Representative Mike McCaul told Reuters the evacuees will include at least 9,000 interpreters who have applied for Special Immigration Visas and their families.

“You are probably talking about 50,000 people. There’s no way to expedite their visas in-country … on a timely basis that would save their lives,” said McCaul, the top Republican on the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs and a leading advocate of evacuating US-affiliated Afghans.

According to the report, countries that “could be on the table” to receive them include Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE and Bahrain.

The Pentagon also said the evacuation may not require the use of US military aircraft.

“It doesn’t always have to entail US military aircraft to accommodate,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

Given the heightened security concerns amid the troop withdrawal, which is halfway complete and likely expected to finish in the coming weeks, US officials say 600 to 700 members of the American military may remain.

Several hundred additional US troops will remain at the Kabul airport until September to back Turkish troops, comprising of 500 soldiers as part of the NATO forces.

Read also: NATO seeks Qatar base to train Afghan special forces: reports

Earlier reports also suggested that NATO approached Qatar to secure a base to train Afghan special forces after the foreign troop withdrawal from Afghanistan concludes.

“We are holding talks to earmark a base in Qatar to create an exclusive training ground for senior members of the Afghan forces,” said a senior Western security official in Kabul.

The base would be utilised to train and equip Afghan security forces fighting the Taliban, which has waged an insurgency against the Afghan government since 2001.

“We have made an offer but it is for authorities in Qatar to decide if they are comfortable with NATO using their territory as a training ground,” said a second security source based in Washington.

Two sources said the United States, Britain and Turkey were among the NATO countries ready to send a force to train Afghan forces in Qatar.

Afghan-Taliban conflict

Fighting between US-backed Afghan forces and the Taliban has continued, with the insurgent group claiming an estimate of 81 out of Kabul’s 419 district centres.

In a recent attack, Xinhua agency reported that up to 46 Taliban militants were killed and 25 others injured during clashes with security forces in Afghanistan’s Takhar province on Saturday.

The ongoing peace talks kicked off in September last year in Qatar. However, these have since stalled with the two warring factions failing to reach an agreement.

Previous reports stated that a seven-member delegation from the Afghan government will head to Qatar “within days” to hold talks with the Taliban, but no further information was disclosed regarding the visit.

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