Antony Blinken visits Afghanistan after US sets troop withdrawal deadline

US secretary of state makes unannounced visit a day after President Joe Biden confirmed all soldiers would leave this year

In this handout photograph taken on April 15, 2021 and released by Press office of President of Afghanistan shows U.S Secretary Antony Blinken (R) meeting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (C), in Kabul.  RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO /  " - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
 / AFP / Afghan Presidential Palace / - / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO /  " - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul on Thursday, a day after President Joe Biden announced that the US would end its military mission in Afghanistan and withdraw all troops by September 11.

Mr Biden said he had spoken by phone with Mr Ghani prior to his speech on Wednesday.

Despite the looming withdrawal, the Biden administration has vowed to continue security, humanitarian and diplomatic support to Afghanistan.

Mr Blinken’s surprise visit to Kabul was to “affirm the United States’ continued commitment to Afghanistan”, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

Antony Blinken makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan

Antony Blinken makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan

“Secretary Blinken made clear that the United States stands with Afghanistan and its people in support of a peaceful and prosperous future,” Mr Price said.

“Secretary Blinken and President Ghani discussed our shared investment in Afghanistan and the importance of preserving the gains of the last 20 years, especially in building a strong civil society and protecting the rights of women and girls.

“They also discussed counter-terrorism co-operation and our shared commitment to ensure Al Qaeda never regains a foothold in Afghanistan.”

Separately, Mr Blinken also met with the chair of the Afghanistan High Commission for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah. 
"Secretary Blinken and Dr Abdullah discussed the importance of continuing to work towards a negotiated political settlement and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire," Mr Price said in a readout of the meeting.

"Secretary Blinken reiterated the US commitment to the peace process and that we will use our full diplomatic, economic and humanitarian toolkit to support the future the Afghan people want, including the gains made by Afghan women."

Mr Blinken travelled to Afghanistan after meeting Nato allies in Brussels. The US has about 3,500 troops in Afghanistan fighting alongside its allies as part of a Nato mission that consists of approximately 11,000 forces.

However, Mr Blinken indicated that the Nato mission would end alongside the US mission during a meeting on Wednesday with Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Under former president Donald Trump, the US last year agreed to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021 as part of Qatar-brokered talks with the Taliban, who have criticised Biden for pushing past that deadline.