Antony Blinken briefs President Ashraf Ghani on US Afghanistan strategy review

Review will determine future US troop presence in country

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks speaks during a visit by U.S. President Joe Biden to the State Department in Washington, U.S., February 4, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called Afghan President Ashraf Ghani “to discuss the United States’ ongoing review of its strategy in Afghanistan", State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

“The secretary reiterated America’s commitment to supporting the peace process, aiming for a just and durable political settlement and a permanent comprehensive ceasefire," Mr Price said on Thursday.

“The secretary emphasised that the United States will continue close consultations with Afghanistan’s leaders, Nato allies and international partners on the way ahead.”

The Biden administration’s Afghanistan review includes the future participation of American troops in the nearly 20-year conflict, which has become the longest-running war in US history.

The congressionally mandated Afghanistan Study Group released its final report this month, which advised against sticking to the May deadline for US troop withdrawal unless the Taliban kept its end of an agreement reached one year ago in Qatar.

Former president Donald Trump's deal with the Taliban last year paved the way for negotiations aimed at withdrawing US troops and establishing a peace process in the country.

Mr Trump reduced troop numbers in the country from 4,500 to 2,500 shortly after losing the election to President Joe Biden in November.

The remaining 2,500 troops are scheduled to leave by May 1 under the Doha agreement.

But Pentagon spokesman John Kirby has said that the Taliban has failed to keep its end of the bargain, which requires it to cut ties with Al Qaeda and end terrorist attacks.

Nato also has about 10,000 troops in the country, including Americans, to train and advise Afghan security forces.

But Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg dismissed the May 1 withdrawal deadline on Thursday, saying the alliance would only pull its forces out after the Taliban complied with the Doha agreement.

Mr Stoltenberg's comments came after a meeting of Nato defence ministers, including US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin.

“Our presence in Afghanistan is conditions based and the Taliban has to meet their commitments,” he said.