Defense

Biden: ‘Tough’ to withdraw from Afghanistan by May

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Withdrawing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1 as called for in a deal between the United States and the Taliban would be “tough,” President Biden said in an interview that aired Wednesday.

The president added he is still deciding whether to go through with the withdrawal.

“It could happen, but it is tough,” Biden told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos about withdrawing by May 1.

Officially, the United States has about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, a number reached in the waning days of former President Trump’s tenure.

Under an agreement with the Taliban negotiated by the Trump administration, all remaining U.S. troops are supposed to leave by May if the Taliban upholds certain commitments such as denying safe haven to al Qaeda.

But U.S. officials have repeatedly said the Taliban has yet to uphold its end of the deal.

“The fact is that that was not a very solidly negotiated deal that the president, the former president worked out,” Biden said in the interview. “And so we’re in consultation with our allies, as well as the government.”

Biden added he does not think his decision on whether to withdraw will take “a lot longer,” attributing delays in coming to a decision to the Trump administration’s obfuscation during the presidential transition. Biden officials have previously said Afghanistan was one area where they were not getting answers from the Trump administration.

“The failure to have an orderly transition from the Trump presidency to my presidency, which usually takes place from Election Day to the time you’re sworn in, has cost me time and consequence,” Biden said.

Experts have warned that a full U.S. withdrawal without a peace agreement between the Taliban and Afghan government could lead to a torrent of violence in Afghanistan, including the potential collapse of the government.

As it decides whether to pull U.S. troops out, the Biden administration has been working to jump-start stalled talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

In leaked documents published earlier this month by Afghan news outlet TOLOnews, Secretary of State Antony Blinken proposed a temporary power-sharing agreement between government officials and the Taliban, describing it as a “transitional peace government” that would exist until a new constitution is written and new elections are held.

In a letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Blinken also outlined a series of high-level diplomatic meetings the Biden administration is proposing, including talks hosted in Turkey to be held in April.

“I must also make clear to you, Mr. President, that as our policy process continues in Washington, the United States has not ruled out any option,” Blinken wrote, stressing a full withdrawal by May 1 is still on the table.

“Even with the continuation of financial assistance from the United States to your forces after an American military withdrawal, I am concerned that the security situation will worsen and that the Taliban could make rapid territorial gains,” Blinken continued. “I am making this clear to you so that you understand the urgency of my tone regarding the collective work outlined in this letter.”

The Afghan government has accepted the invitation to participate in the talks in Turkey, as well as a separate invitation to participate in Russian-led peace talks scheduled to start Thursday.

The Taliban has also said it will send a delegation to the Russian talks, but has not confirmed whether it will participate in the U.S.-backed talks in Turkey.

Tags Afghanistan Antony Blinken Donald Trump George Stephanopoulos Joe Biden Taliban troop withdrawal War in Afghanistan
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