blinken: No evidence that staying longer would have made any difference in Afghanistan says Antony Blinken – World News
President Joe Biden in April announced that all American troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September 11 this year, thus bringing to end the country’s longest war, spanning across two decades.
The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan on August 15, two weeks before the US was set to complete its troop withdrawal.
“There’s no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government any more resilient or self-sustaining. If 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in support, equipment, and training did not suffice, why would another year, or five, or ten, make a difference?” Blinken told lawmakers during a Congressional hearing on Afghanistan.
The first of the series of Congressional hearings were held by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Referring to the agreement signed by the previous Trump administration with the Taliban last February, Blinken said that in January 2021, the Taliban was in its strongest military position since 9-11 – and the US had the smallest number of troops on the ground since 2001.
As a result, upon taking office, President Biden immediately faced the choice between ending the war or escalating it.
“Had he not followed through on his predecessor’s commitment, attacks on our forces and those of our allies would have resumed and the Taliban’s nationwide assault on Afghanistan’s major cities would have commenced,” he said.
That would have required sending substantially more US forces into Afghanistan to defend ourselves and prevent a Taliban takeover, taking casualties – and with at best the prospect of restoring a stalemate and remaining stuck in Afghanistan, under fire, indefinitely, he said.
Blinken said that there is nothing that strategic competitors like China and Russia – or adversaries like Iran and North Korea – would have liked more than for the United States to re-up a 20-year war and remain bogged down in Afghanistan for another decade.
“In advance of the President’s decision, I was in constant contact with our Allies and partners to hear their views and factor them into our thinking. When the President announced the withdrawal, NATO immediately and unanimously embraced it. We all set to work – together – on the drawdown,” he said.
Blinken said that the US will continue to help Americans – and Afghans to whom the US has a special commitment – depart Afghanistan if they choose, just as they have done in other countries where they have evacuated the embassy and hundreds or even thousands of Americans remained behind – for example, in Libya, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, and Somalia. There is no deadline to this mission, he said.
The United States, he said, is focused on counterterrorism. “The Taliban has committed to preventing terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base for external operations that could threaten the United States or our allies, including Al Qaeda and ISIS-K,” he said.
“We will hold them accountable for that. That does not mean we will rely on them. We will remain vigilant in monitoring threats, and we’ll maintain robust counterterrorism capabilities. in the region to neutralize those threats if necessary – as we do in places around the world where we do not have military forces on the ground,” he said.
The US will continue its intensive diplomacy with Allies and partners.
“We initiated a statement joined by more than 100 countries and a United Nations Security Council Resolution setting out the international community’s expectations of a Taliban-led government,” he added.
“We expect the Taliban to ensure freedom of travel; make good on its counter-terrorism commitments; uphold the basic rights of the Afghan people, including women, girls, and minorities; name a broadly representative permanent government, and forswear reprisals. The legitimacy and support it seeks from the international community will depend on its conduct,” Blinken said.