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Top U.S. diplomat visits Afghans

In surprise stop, Blinken sought to offer leaders reassurance by MATTHEW LEE THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | April 16, 2021 at 4:18 a.m.
“The partnership is changing, but the partnership itself is enduring,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in a Kabul meeting Thursday seeking to assure Ghani of the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan. (AP/Afghan Presidential Palace)

KABUL, Afghanistan -- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and a wary public on President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw all American troops from the country and end America's longest war.

Blinken sought to assure senior Afghan politicians that the United States remains committed to the country despite Biden's announcement a day earlier that the 2,500 U.S. soldiers remaining in the country would be coming home by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that led to the U.S. invasion in 2001.

"I wanted to demonstrate with my visit the ongoing commitment of the United States to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanistan," Blinken told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani as they met at the presidential palace in Kabul. "The partnership is changing, but the partnership itself is enduring."

"We respect the decision and are adjusting our priorities," Ghani told Blinken, expressing gratitude for the sacrifices of U.S. troops.

Later, in a meeting with Abdullah Abdullah, who heads the National Reconciliation Council, Blinken repeated his message, saying that "we have a new chapter, but it is a new chapter that we're writing together."

"We are grateful to your people, your country, your administration," Abdullah said.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qn2W0LGr1_M]

NATO immediately followed Biden's lead Wednesday, saying that its roughly 7,000 non-American forces in Afghanistan would be departing within a few months, ending the foreign military presence that has been a fact of life for a generation of Afghans reeling from more than 40 years of conflict.

Blinken arrived in the Afghan capital from Brussels, where he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin briefed NATO officials on the U.S. decision and won quick approval from the allies to end their Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.

Biden, Blinken and Austin have all tried to put a brave face on the pullout, maintaining that the U.S.- and NATO-led missions to Afghanistan had achieved their goal of decimating Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network that led the 9/11 attacks and clearing the country of terrorist elements that could use Afghan soil to plot similar strikes.

However, that argument has faced push-back from some U.S. lawmakers and human-rights advocates, who say the withdrawal will result in the loss of freedoms that Afghans enjoyed after the Taliban were ousted from power in late 2001.

"My views are very pessimistic," Naheed Farid, a member of parliament, told reporters when asked her thoughts about the future of her country. Farid was one of a half-dozen mostly female civic leaders who met with Blinken at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. She did not elaborate.

Gallery: Top U.S. diplomat visits Afghans

[Gallery not loading above? Click here for more photos » arkansasonline.com/416blinken/]

Twenty years after the invasion, more than half of Afghanistan's 36 million people live on less than $1.90 a day despite billions in U.S. aid, according to World Bank figures. Afghanistan is also considered one of the worst countries in the world for women's rights and well-being.

For many Afghans, the past two decades have been disappointing, as corruption has overtaken successive governments and powerful warlords have amassed wealth and loyal militias who are well-armed. Many Afghans fear the chaos will grow even worse once America leaves.

At a news conference in the capital before leaving, Blinken said that while America is drawing down its military force, it is stepping up its engagement with the Afghan government and people and would continue financial support for the Afghan military. Washington pays $4 billion a year to maintain those forces.

Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are at a stalemate but are supposed to resume later this month in Istanbul, though the Taliban have not said if they will participate.

Blinken had warnings for the religious militia, saying it would never gain the international recognition it wants if it drives Afghanistan toward a civil war rather than embracing the peace talks.

Information for this article was contributed by Kathy Gannon of The Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, talks with Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar, outside the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, April 51, 2021. Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and a wary public on President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw all American troops from the country and end America's longest-running war. (Afghan Presidential Palace via AP)
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, talks with Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar, outside the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, April 51, 2021. Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and a wary public on President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw all American troops from the country and end America's longest-running war. (Afghan Presidential Palace via AP)
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) meets Thursday in Kabul with Abdullah Abdullah, head of Afghanistan’s National Reconciliation Council, during an unannounced trip to offer assurances about U.S. commitments despite plans to end the U.S. military presence there. Blinken told officials that “we have a new chapter, but it is a new chapter that we’re writing together” and stressed that America will continue financial support. More photos at arkansasonline.com/416blinken/.
(AP/Sapidar Palace)
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) meets Thursday in Kabul with Abdullah Abdullah, head of Afghanistan’s National Reconciliation Council, during an unannounced trip to offer assurances about U.S. commitments despite plans to end the U.S. military presence there. Blinken told officials that “we have a new chapter, but it is a new chapter that we’re writing together” and stressed that America will continue financial support. More photos at arkansasonline.com/416blinken/. (AP/Sapidar Palace)
Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, center, walks with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at the Sapidar Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, April 15, 2021. Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and a wary public on President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw all American troops from the country and end America's longest-running war. (Sapidar Palace via AP)
Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, center, walks with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at the Sapidar Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, April 15, 2021. Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and a wary public on President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw all American troops from the country and end America's longest-running war. (Sapidar Palace via AP)
Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, center right, walks with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at the Sapidar Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, April 15, 2021. Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and a wary public on President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw all American troops from the country and end America's longest-running war. (Sapidar Palace via AP)
Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, center right, walks with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at the Sapidar Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, April 15, 2021. Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and a wary public on President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw all American troops from the country and end America's longest-running war. (Sapidar Palace via AP)
Afgan President Ashraf Ghani, center, meets with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, center left, and their delegations, at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, April 51, 2021. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and a wary public on President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw all American troops from the country and end America's longest-running war. (Afghan Presidential Palace via AP)
Afgan President Ashraf Ghani, center, meets with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, center left, and their delegations, at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, April 51, 2021. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and a wary public on President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw all American troops from the country and end America's longest-running war. (Afghan Presidential Palace via AP)
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, center right, walks with Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar, center left, at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, April 51, 2021. Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and a wary public on President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw all American troops from the country and end America's longest-running war. (Presidential Palace via AP)
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, center right, walks with Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar, center left, at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, April 51, 2021. Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and a wary public on President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw all American troops from the country and end America's longest-running war. (Presidential Palace via AP)
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