US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has defended the country’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, saying the “terrorist” threat has shifted elsewhere and that Washington needs to refocus its resources on challenges such as China and the pandemic .
President Joe Biden announced last week that nearly 2,500 U.S. troops would leave Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks that sparked America’s longest war.
The unconditional withdrawal – four months after the deadline agreed with the Taliban last year – comes despite a stalemate in peace talks between the armed group and the Afghan government.
“The terrorist threat has moved to other places. And we have other very important items on our agenda, including the relationship with China, including dealing with everything from climate change to COVID, ”Blinken told ABC’s This Week program. .
“And that’s where we need to focus our energy and resources.”
Blinken met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and senior US officials in Kabul last week and briefed them on Biden’s announcement that he was ending “the war forever,” which began in response to attacks by the government. September 11, 2001.
Blinken told ABC that the United States had “achieved the goals we set for ourselves.”
“Al-Qaeda has deteriorated considerably. Its ability to carry out an attack on the United States now from Afghanistan is not there, ”he said.
The Pentagon has around 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, compared to over 100,000. Thousands more are part of a 9,600-strong NATO force, which will withdraw at the same time.
The delay in the withdrawal – even just over four months – angered the Taliban, who threatened to resume hostilities against US forces.
Blinken, however, said Washington would be able to see any Taliban action “in real time” and take action.
“So if they do something again, they’re going to be in a long war which is also not in their best interests,” he said.
“ No guarantee on the future post-withdrawal ”
Meanwhile, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said no one could offer any guarantees on Afghanistan’s future after the US troops left, although he stressed that the United States would remain focused on “terrorist threats” emanating from the country.
Sullivan was asked on Fox News’ Sunday broadcast about the risk of a repeat of what happened in Iraq, where ISIS fighters seized the territory after the withdrawal of the US troops in 2011. This led to then-President Barack Obama to send troops back to Iraq.
Sullivan said Biden had no intention of returning US forces to Afghanistan, but added, “I cannot give any guarantees as to what will happen inside the country. Nobody can.”
“All the United States could do is provide the Afghan security forces, the Afghan government and the Afghan people with resources and capabilities, train and equip their forces, by providing assistance to their government. We have done it and now is the time for the American troops to return home and for the Afghan people to mobilize in defense of their own country.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has dismissed what he called “false analogies” to the war in Vietnam as well as any suggestion that his government risked bending under pressure from the Taliban after the departure of US troops.
Afghan security forces were able to defend the country, he said.
“The Afghan defense and security forces have carried out more than 90% of operations in the past two years,” Ghani said in an interview with CNN.
Former President Donald Trump said in a statement that leaving Afghanistan was “a wonderful and positive thing to do,” but called for an earlier start. Trump had set a May 1 deadline to step down.
CIA Director William Burns told the Senate Intelligence Committee last week that the ability of the United States to gather intelligence and act against violent threats in Afghanistan will wane after the departure of American troops.
A United Nations report released in January said there were as many as 500 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and that the Taliban had a close relationship with the group. The Taliban deny that al-Qaeda is present in Afghanistan.
Announcing his decision to withdraw his troops, Biden said the United States would monitor the threat, revamp counterterrorism capabilities and retain significant assets in the region to respond to threats against the United States emerging from Afghanistan.
“He has no intention of taking our eyes off the ball,” Sullivan said of the president. “We have the capacity, by repositioning our capabilities on the horizon, to continue to suppress the terrorist threat in Afghanistan.”