President Biden rules out slowing down US exit from Afghanistan
Holds talks with President Ghani, Abdullah: Calls on Afghans to decide their own future
US President Joe Biden hosts Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Dr Abdullah Abdullah in the Oval Office at the White House.– AFP
US President Joe Biden promised Afghan leader Ashraf Ghani strong support during a White House meeting Friday but made clear he was not planning to slow the US withdrawal after nearly two decades of fighting.
Even so, Biden told the Afghan president, "Afghans are going to have to decide their future, what they want."
"The senseless violence, it has to stop. It's going to be very difficult."
- Deal with Taliban pushed -
Ghani was in Washington along with Abdullah Abdullah, who oversees Kabul's peace negotiations with the Taliban, amid rising uncertainty over the group's recent gains and the possibility of their return to power.
The extremists subjected the population to a brutal version of Islam when they ruled from 1996-2001.
Ghani said Afghan government forces retook six districts, in the north and south, on Friday, reversing recent Taliban gains.
"You will see that with determination, with unity and with the partnership, we will overcome all odds."
With the US military's on-the-ground support for Afghan security forces about to disappear completely, Washington is expecting him to reach a negotiated settlement on power sharing with the Taliban before it is too late.
"The Department of Defence is deeply invested in the security and stability of Afghanistan and in the pursuit of a negotiated settlement that ends the war," Austin told Ghani and Abdullah at the Pentagon.
The top Democrat in Congress, Nancy Pelosi, also indicated that there was no turning back. Meeting Ghani, she stressed future humanitarian assistance to the country "as we enter a new phase of that relationship."
- No abandonment -
The US pullout, of some 2,500 troops and 16,000 civilian contractors in the country earlier this year, could be mostly completed next month.
"The false narrative of abandonment is just false," Ghani said before his meeting with Austin.
He added that predictions like that of the intelligence report on a possible Taliban takeover "have all turned out false."
The administration is also working on a plan to evacuate some 18,000 Afghan interpreters and others who worked for US forces and who are under personal threat from the Taliban.
Meanwhile, Washington is in talks with Turkey to secure the capital city's airport.
The United States will also provide three million doses of Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine to Afghanistan to be shipped as soon as next week, according to White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre.
"Ghani doesn't have a lot of domestic legitimacy. His legitimacy comes, maybe more than from any other source or any other factor, from international recognition and support," Watkins said.