Biden defends Afghanistan pullout as Taliban gobbles more territory

President Biden vowed Friday that the US and Afghanistan would have a “sustained” partnership after American combat forces leave the country — but warned Kabul’s top two leaders that “Afghans are going to have to decide their future.”

Biden made the statements during a meeting at the White House with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, chair of the High Council for National Reconciliation.

“The partnership between Afghanistan and the United States is not ending,” Biden insisted.

He later added: “Our troops may be leaving, but support for Afghanistan is not ending, in terms of … helping maintain their military, as well as economic and political support.”

The visit to Washington came at a crucial moment for Ghani and Abdullah. Peace talks with the Taliban have stalled, while battlefield gains by the Islamic fundamentalists have raised fears that the US-backed government could collapse within months without American military support.

Ghani said he respected Biden’s decision to withdraw US forces and claimed that Afghan forces had retaken six districts from the Taliban earlier Friday.

“It’s showing our determination,” said Ghani, who has a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from Columbia.

The Afghan leader also said his country is “in [an] 1861 moment, like President Lincoln, rallying to the defense of the republic, determined that the republic is defended. It’s a choice of values — the values of an exclusionary system or an inclusionary system.”

U.S. President Joe Biden (R) hosts Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani (C) and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, in the Oval Office at the White House June 25, 2021 in Washington, DC.
President Biden noted the partnership with Afghanistan is “not ending.”
Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images

“We are determined to have unity, coherence, national sense of sacrifice, and will not spare anything,” added Ghani, who told reporters after the meeting that it was up to his government to “manage consequences” of the US pullout.

Roughly 650 US troops are expected to remain in Afghanistan to provide security for diplomats after the main American military force completes its withdrawal, which is set to be largely done in the next two weeks, US officials told The Associated Press. Several hundred additional American forces will remain at the Kabul airport to assist Turkish troops providing security until a more formal Turkey-led security operation is in place.

Biden previously said he wanted all US forces out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the devastating terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon that precipitated the US-led invasion.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Paris on Friday that while US troops would have “significantly” helped Ghani’s government, “what is almost certain is that our military would have come to us and said, well, the situation has changed, we need more forces. And we would have repeated the cycle that we’ve been in for 20 years. And at some point, you have to say this has to stop.”

Before Biden welcomed Ghani and Abdullah to the White House, the Afghan leaders met with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon.

Ghani also met Friday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as well as House Republican lawmakers, one day after sitting down with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Following their meeting, McConnell claimed Biden had “chosen to abandon the fight and invite even greater terrorist threats.”

In this Nov. 30, 2017, file photo, American soldiers wait on the tarmac in Logar province, Afghanistan.
President Biden had previously announced the US military presence would depart Afghanistan by Sept. 11.
Rahmat Gul/AP

On Friday, Ghani faced questions from House Republican leadership about how his government would use the $3 billion in security assistance it is seeking from the United States.

“We want to support them. We want them to be able to defend their country from the Taliban. But I’ll tell you it’s a fairly grim assessment,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “The question is: Can they push back the Taliban?”

With Post wires