US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan to dominate Biden-Ghani talks

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The United States troop withdrawal will be the main topic of conversation when Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani meets with US President Joe Biden in Washington on Friday.

The first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders follows an April announcement by Biden of the full withdrawal of US troops by September. This is in an effort to end America’s longest running war after nearly 20 years of conflict. But as the United Nations Security Council learned this week, Taliban insurgents have captured more than 50 of the 370 districts in Afghanistan since May, warning that increased conflict posed a risk of insecurity to many other countries.

It was a war against the Taliban predicated on the 911 attacks over their refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden. With President Biden announcing just months into his term that the troops were coming home, the Secretary General Special Representative to the UN’s Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, says: “The mid-April announcement that all international troops will be withdrawn in the coming months sent a seismic tremor through the Afghan political system and society at large. The withdrawal decision was expected but its speed with the majority of troops now already withdrawn was not. All actors have had to adjust to this new, reality that is unfolding. More than 50 of Afghanistan’s 370 districts have fallen since the beginning of May. Most districts that have been taken surround provincial capitals, suggesting that the Taliban are positioning themselves to try and take these capitals once foreign forces are fully withdrawn.”

A statement from the White House earlier this week says the US is committed to supporting the Afghan people by providing diplomatic, economic and humanitarian assistance to the country – promising that they would remain deeply engaged with the government of Afghanistan to ensure the country never again becomes a safe haven for terrorist groups who pose a threat to the US homeland. But it’s an assurance that has done little to quell unease on the ground with reports of a US intelligence assessment showing the Afghan government could collapse within six months after US troop withdrawals – a question put to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

“I don’t have any more assessment beyond the intelligence community. I don’t anticipate – the timeline for withdrawal is not going to change by September, which, of course, is overseen by our Department of Defense. A part of their discussion on Friday will certainly be the President reiterating his commitment to work with the government of Afghanistan to continue to provide humanitarian support, over-the-horizon security – you know, work that – that he committed to when he made this announcement. And I’m sure they’ll discuss this during their meeting on Friday,” says Psaki.

The UN’s Deborah Lyons warns that every effort should be made to prevent a worst-case scenario from prevailing.

“It should be emphatically clear that any efforts to install a militarily imposed government in Kabul would go against the will of the Afghan people, and against the stated positions of the regional countries and the broader international community,” says Lyons.

Peace talks in Qatar between the Afghan government and the Taliban have stalled with calls for the Security Council to push the parties back to the negotiating table.

“This is certainly not an outcome to be accepted after two decades of enormous sacrifices in blood and treasure by Afghans and our international partners. Profoundly appreciating your sacrifices and support over the past two decades, we, the government and people of Afghanistan, are committed to continue to work with our international and regional partners not to let our joint sacrifices go in vain and work to achieve our shared goal of peace, security and prosperity,” says Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Hanif Atmar.

Washington’s message to the Taliban is that the world would not recognise the establishment of a government imposed by force nor the restoration of an Islamic Emirate where women’s rights are again jeopardised.