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Friday at the White House, President Joe Biden met with Afghanistan’s leaders, just weeks before the U.S. completes withdrawing almost all of its forces. There was a lot on the agenda: finalizing plans on how many U.S. troops to keep in the country, how to continue training Afghan troops, and how to safely evacuate Afghans who worked for the U.S. Nick Schifrin reports.
Today at the White House, President Biden met with Afghanistan's leaders just weeks before the U.S. completes withdrawing almost all of its forces.
There is a lot on the agenda, finalizing plans on how many U.S. troops to keep in the country, how to continue training Afghan troops, and how to safely evacuate Afghans who worked for the U.S.
Nick Schifrin reports.
Today at the White House, President Biden vowed to keep fighting America's longest war, just without U.S. troops.
Joe Biden, President of the United States: The partnership between Afghanistan and the United States is not ending. It's going to be sustained.
Flanked by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and High Council for National Reconciliation Chairman Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, President Biden promised to confront Afghanistan's third COVID wave by donating three million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine and badly needed oxygen.
And he pledged support for Afghanistan's government, but with what an administration official called tough love.
The Afghans are going to have to decide their future, what they want.
President Ghani compared today in Afghanistan to the U.S. Civil War.
Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan: The Afghan nation is an 1861 moment, like President Lincoln, rallying to the defense of the republic, determined that the republic is defended.
But that's not going well. This week, Afghan soldiers in multiple districts surrendered to the Taliban, and Taliban fighters have threatened two provincial capitals.
The Taliban also captured the Tajikistan border crossing and districts that could allow them to cut off the sole roads to Kabul. On Wednesday, the Taliban released a statement declaring — quote — "manifest victory and triumph."
We interviewed Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen earlier this week.
Do you believe that you have achieved victory?
Suhail Shaheen, Taliban Spokesman:
We are ending the war. And the Afghans become as one, as one nation. So, I think that is victory for the nation.
But if you see at the angle that we and the United States achieved a solution through talks in the negotiation, that is, I think, a success for both sides.
The Taliban say they still want a political settlement in talks in Doha. But the Afghan government accuses the Taliban of stalling to try and win on the battlefield.
There are Taliban forces that got to the edge of two provincial capitals, Kunduz City and Maimana. Do the Taliban plan on taking those provincial capitals?
Right now, we do not have any intention of running over those capitals and taking them. A military takeover is not our policy. Our policy is reaching a solution through talks and negotiation.
But Afghan government negotiators whom I speak to accuse you of abandoning the talks and not taking them seriously.
We say, come and please talk about the road map, political road map first, in order to reach a permanent solution.
But they say we — first, we want a cease-fire. They are rather interested in surrendering our side to them. But that is not a reconciliation.
Are you willing to entertain a humanitarian cease-fire, especially given the third wave of COVID?
It is it up to the negotiation team on both sides.
Are you ready and willing to share power?
Any solution can reach by both sides that will be acceptable to us. We want to enter a new phase of friendly relations with the USA in reconstruction of Afghanistan and reinvestment in the country.
But if they still insist continuing the military approach, if they give them, this moribund administration, more money and ammunition, weapons, that means it will continue, will prolong the war.
Why, if foreign forces have already agreed to leave, do you continue to attack and kill your fellow Afghans?
Those districts which have been falling to our forces in the last few weeks, they are falling through negotiations, not through fighting.
But that's not true in all areas.
Just in the last few weeks, the Taliban have killed dozens of U.S.-trained Afghan commandos. When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, they destroyed historic Buddhist art and hunted and executed minorities and women who didn't adhere to their version of Islam.
If the Taliban were to come back into power, would you do that again?
That is something for future, for the religious scholars.
And so that punishment could include public execution?
So, that will be seen.
You have said that you will allow girls to go to school.
What reassurance can you give that you will follow through on that promise, when, in the past, you haven't?
All schools — that also includes girls schools — and all universities and offices, they should remain open. So, that is clear they will have access to education.
The administration is currently negotiating with Turkey for Turkish troops to secure the airport, initially with the assistance of U.S. soldiers.
U.S. service members will also remain to guard the embassy. And the U.S. is completing plans on how to keep training Afghan soldiers and whether U.S. contractors will continue to help the Afghan air force. The Taliban reject the presence of all U.S. forces and contractors.
If they remain or leave behind some forces, some residual forces, that means continuation of the occupation.
Meanwhile, thousands of Afghans who have helped translate for and facilitate the U.S. war are applying for U.S. visas. Senior administration and congressional officials tell "PBS NewsHour" they are planning on evacuating some 17,000 and perhaps more to U.S. territory.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.
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Nick Schifrin is the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour, based in Washington, D.C. He leads NewsHour's foreign reporting and has created week-long, in-depth series for NewsHour from China, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Cuba, Mexico, and the Baltics. The PBS NewsHour series "Inside Putin's Russia" won a 2018 Peabody Award and the National Press Club's Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence. In November 2020, Schifrin received the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Media Award for Distinguished Reporting and Analysis of Foreign Affairs.
As the deputy senior producer for foreign affairs and defense at the PBS NewsHour, Dan plays a key role in helping oversee and produce the program’s foreign affairs and defense stories. His pieces have broken new ground on an array of military issues, exposing debates simmering outside the public eye.
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