Austin informed reporters touring with him in Kabul that senior U.S. officers need to see “a responsible end to this conflict” and “a transition to something else.”
“There’s always going to be concerns about things one way or the other, but I think there is a lot of energy focused on doing what is necessary to bring about a responsible end and a negotiated settlement to the war,” Austin stated.
Separately, the protection secretary informed a bunch of service members in Kabul that being deployed is “clearly not easy,” however that the mission is vital.
“Continue to take care of each other and focus on the task at hand,” Austin informed them.
The journey marks the primary go to by the brand new administration to Afghanistan and comes forward of a May 1 deadline to take away all U.S. troops that was set in an settlement signed with the Taliban final yr. About 2,500 U.S. troops stay in Afghanistan, in accordance to the Pentagon, with a number of hundred extra deployed on a short-term foundation.
Austin’s go to comes after Turkey introduced Friday that it’ll host a peace summit in April that was requested by the Biden administration in an effort to jump-start negotiations between the Afghan authorities and the Taliban. Ghani stated he’ll attend if Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s high chief, additionally does.
At the peak of the conflict in 2010, the United States had greater than 100,000 troops unfold throughout the nation, many in fight day by day. More than 2,300 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan, and plenty of thousand extra Afghans have.
The current state of affairs has left the Biden administration choosing from difficult choices.
While the deal the Trump administration negotiated final yr known as for the whole elimination of U.S. troops this spring, it didn’t require the Taliban to attain a peace accord with the Afghan authorities first.
The Taliban, pushed from energy by the United States in a conflict launched after al-Qaeda’s September 2001 terrorist assaults on the United States, has principally held fireplace on Americans since then as part of the deal. But it has waged a bloody marketing campaign of violence on U.S.-trained Afghan troops, killing scores every month and encircling some Afghan cities. It additionally didn’t break with al-Qaeda, one other time period in the deal, in accordance to U.S. analysts and intelligence assessments.
Biden has raised the prospect of staying in small numbers, at the least for some time longer. In an interview with ABC News last week, the president stated a full withdrawal by May “is tough,” and he was “in the process of making that decision now as to when they’ll leave.”
Biden administration officers, together with Austin, have declined to elaborate on the choices that Biden is contemplating. Austin, in a information convention with reporters in India on Saturday, stated he was “aware of various speculation” prompted by an NBC News report final week that Biden has determined to preserve troops in Afghanistan by November, however stated no choice has been made.
The timing, together with the continued Taliban assaults on Afghan forces and challenges of transferring navy tools from a landlocked nation with no ports, has raised questions on whether or not the United States has reached a window of time in which it’s not possible for all U.S. troops to depart by May 1 in an orderly vogue.
The Taliban warned on Friday that if the United States doesn’t meet the deadline, there can be a “reaction.”
Austin stated the United States is “mindful of the timelines and the requirements that the Taliban has kind of laid out.” He then shifted to be aware his expertise main the U.S. navy withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 on the course of the Obama administration.
“I would just tell you that there’s probably nobody who understands the physics associated with moving troops and equipment out of a place better than me,” Austin stated. “And I think that as we work through this process, we’ll keep all those things in mind, and we’ll keep as many options open as we can. Whatever the decision is that the president makes, you know, you can trust that it will be fully supportable.”
What that may yield is unclear. Taliban officers have expressed curiosity in taking on the nation’s authorities once more, elevating considerations over whether or not advances in ladies’s rights and democracy will final.
Taliban officers have expressed curiosity in taking on the nation’s authorities once more, elevating considerations over whether or not advances in ladies’s rights and democracy will final.
Politically, the query stays fraught. During the presidential marketing campaign, Biden vowed to end “forever wars.” Still, some in his occasion seem torn over how quickly U.S. forces ought to exit.
“It is time for it to come to an end,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) stated Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” emphasizing his opposition to one other long-term navy dedication in Afghanistan. “At this point,” Durbin added, “I see no end in sight for our presence there. I want to make sure there is a safe exit of our troops; we try to keep the environment as stable as possible, but, as far as engaging in an Afghanistan war for another decade, I’m opposed.”
Speaking on CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a fight veteran and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, stated her ideas had been with the navy personnel who stay in hurt’s manner however that the prudent course is to enable Austin time to make a advice with enter from U.S. commanders and allies in theater.
“I want American troops to come home,” Duckworth stated, “but I also want to fight the bad guys over there instead of allowing them to come here.”
Top of thoughts amongst senior U.S. navy officers is the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq a decade in the past. That operation was accomplished on deadline, but it surely was carried out after the Obama administration weighed protecting hundreds of service members there as a residual pressure. Less than three years after the departure, the Islamic State swept throughout Iraq from Syria, prompting the U.S. navy to return.
A senior Afghan official, Shahmahmood Miakhel, stated in an interview on Sunday that Afghan officers hope to “reach an understanding in the peace process, to have a cease fire and not need to use U.S. air support.”
“Afghan forces have the capability to support their own operations and U.S. forces mostly target international terrorist groups who operate under the umbrella of the Taliban in different parts of the country,” he stated.
The official, who was simply appointed Afghanistan’s ambassador to Qatar, stated Afghan forces, particularly commandos, are skilled to be much less dependent upon air assist. U.S. forces, he stated, “may have freedom to use their air support against counterterrorism operations in the country.”
Rahmatullah Andar, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s nationwide safety council, refused to tackle latest feedback from the Biden administration on the withdrawal timeline of U.S. forces and continued air assist. But he did specific frustration that regardless of a deal being reached with the Taliban and the United States final yr, violence throughout the nation continues.
“After the Doha peace deal, foreigners are safe, but Afghans are being killed. The brunt of the violence is on the Afghan people and security forces,” he stated.
Austin, who visited Ghani on the presidential palace, stated he didn’t convey a message to the president and needed to hear what Ghani’s considerations are. Austin declined to say whether or not he thinks the Taliban has met the phrases of its cope with the United States.
Susannah George in Kabul and Drew Harwell in Washington contributed to this report.