Blinken says US and Nato partners will exit Afghanistan ‘together’

The statement comes after Joe Biden indicated that May 1 withdrawal deadline seems unlikely

 US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Nato partners have been 'shoulder to shoulder' with American forces in Afghanistan.
 US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Nato partners have been 'shoulder to shoulder' with American forces in Afghanistan.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that American forces will only withdraw from Afghanistan in co-ordination with their Nato allies, who they have fought alongside there for nearly two decades.

“We’ve been very clear, and Nato has been very clear, that the approach that we’re taking to this is we went in together, we’ve adapted to circumstances together and we will come out together when the time is right,” Mr Blinken said in an interview with CNN.

“And what we’re focused on now is looking at the May 1 deadline.”

“One of the things that was important was not only to share our thinking as we’re going through this review, including the May 1 deadline, but to listen, to hear from our partners who are so invested: their ideas, their thoughts, their analysis.”

While the US agreed to a May 1 withdrawal deadline as part of a diplomatic agreement reached with the Taliban last year, President Joe Biden said at a Wednesday press conference that the date would be “hard to meet” for “tactical reasons”.

However, he also said that he does not expect US troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2022.

There are currently about 11,000 Nato troops stationed in Afghanistan – 2,500 of whom are American forces.

“There are actually more European forces in Afghanistan right now than there are American, so they’re deeply invested in this with us, and they’ve been shoulder to shoulder with us from the very start,” said Mr Blinken.

The US has accused the Taliban of failing to live up to its end of last year’s agreement.

This requires it to cut ties with Al Qaeda and cease terrorist attacks.

The congressionally mandated Afghanistan study group in February released its final report, which advises against the May 1 withdrawal deadline until the Taliban meets these conditions and reduces violence against the Afghan people.

It also calls on the Biden administration to build upon the diplomatic work that Donald Trump, the former president, started last year.

This would aim to reach a comprehensive political settlement between the Taliban and the Kabul-based government before withdrawal.

Mr Blinken indicated to CNN that the Biden administration is trying to do just that.

“It was also very important to try to accelerate the diplomacy, because ultimately everyone recognises that there is no military solution to Afghanistan,” he said.

“There has to be some kind of political settlement, and it has to be a settlement reached by the Afghans themselves.”

The Biden administration has retained Zalmay Khalilzad, who Mr Trump appointed, as the special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation.

Mr Khalilzad departed for Turkey on Thursday to resume negotiations.

“Ambassador Khalilzad will build on recent efforts by regional and international partners to encourage two Afghan parties to accelerate their negotiations to end the conflict,” the State Department said.

“He will engage the two sides on their preparatory efforts for talks on a political settlement that produces a permanent ceasefire and a durable and just peace.

“He will also meet with stakeholders to discuss how the region and international community can facilitate talks between the sides.”

Updated: March 29, 2021 06:56 AM

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