President Joe Biden offers commitment to Afghan leaders Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, but made clear he was not planning to slow the US troop withdrawal.

US President Joe Biden meets with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House, in Washington, US, June 25, 2021
US President Joe Biden meets with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House, in Washington, US, June 25, 2021 (Reuters)

United States President Joe Biden has promised continued support to Afghan leaders during a meeting at the White House even as the US and Nato troops are set to complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan by September 11.

Biden, seated beside Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, chair of the High Council for National Reconciliation, in the Oval Office on Friday, called them "two old friends" and said US support for Afghanistan was not ending but would be sustained.

"Our troops may be leaving, but support for Afghanistan is not ending," he said.

But he also insisted that it was time for the American military to step back. 

"Afghans are going to have to decide their future, what they want," Biden said, adding that the "senseless violence has to stop".

READ MORE: US plans to keep about 650 troops in Afghanistan after withdrawal

The leaders’ visit to Washington comes as the Biden administration has stepped up plans for withdrawal ahead of the president’s September 11 deadline to end a nearly 20-year-old war that has come with a breathtaking human cost.

Difficulties ahead

Ghani pointed to an uptick in Afghans signing up for the military as a sign of hope. But he also acknowledged the difficulty that lies ahead, suggesting the moment was analogous to the difficulties the US faced at the start of its civil war.

Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Ghani said the United States' decision to withdraw troops was a sovereign one and it was Kabul's job to "manage consequences."

He added that Biden had clearly articulated that the US embassy would continue to operate and security aid would continue and in some cases move on an accelerated schedule.

The Oval Office meeting could be as valuable to Ghani for its symbolism as for any new US help because it will be seen as affirming Biden's support for the beleaguered Afghan leader as he confronts Taliban gains, bombings, and assassinations, a surge in Covid-19 cases, and political infighting in Kabul.

Pressure for transitional government

Biden's embrace, however, comes only months after US officials were pressuring Ghani to step aside for a transitional government under a draft political accord that they floated in a failed gambit to break a stalemate in peace talks.

Biden has asked Congress to approve $3.3 billion in security assistance for Afghanistan next year and is sending 3 million doses of vaccines there to help it battle Covid-19.

US officials have been clear that Biden will not halt the American pullout – likely to be completed in the coming weeks -and he is unlikely to approve any US military support to Kabul to halt the Taliban's advances beyond advice, intelligence, and aircraft maintenance.

Many lawmakers and experts have expressed deep concerns that the Taliban - if returned to power - will reverse progress made on the rights of women and girls, who were harshly repressed and barred from education and work during the insurgents' 1996-2001 rule.

More than 2,400 US troops have been killed and 20,000 wounded in the war since 2001, according to the Defense Department.

 It’s estimated that over 3,800 US private security contractors have been killed. The suffering has been even greater for Afghanistan with estimates showing more than 66,000 Afghan troops killed and more than 2.7 million forced to flee their homes — mostly to Iran.

Source: Reuters