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US objectives in Afghanistan achieved; Al-Qaeda significantly degraded: Blinken

US Star and Stripes flag. Stock Photo: dcandau/Pixabay

Washington, Apr 19 (MNN) US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken has asserted that the country had achieved its objectives in Afghanistan and that the Al-Qaeda had been “significantly degraded”.

His assertion came during a conversation with Martha Raddatz of ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos while reacting to a question on reaction from Army officers who had commanded US troops in Afghanistan, including former Chair of Joint Chiefs and David Petraeus, who later became CIA Director.

They officers had claimed that the decision to withdraw troops would leave the US more vulnerable to terrorist threats. Joe Dunford had said it would also have a catastrophic effect in Afghanistan itself.

Blinken said that he had just returned from Kabul after meeting with President Ghani and other Afghan leaders. “That was just after coming from NATO, meeting with all of our allies. And across the board, I heard support for President Joe Biden’s decision and the path ahead.

“… we had a very deliberate and fully informed process leading up to the President’s decision, and the fact is this: We went to Afghanistan 20 years ago, and we went because we were attacked on 9/11, and we went to take on those who had attacked us on 9/11 and to make sure that Afghanistan would not again become a haven for terrorism directed at the US or any of our allies and partners.”

The Secretary was quoted as saying in a statement: “And we achieved the objectives that we set out to achieve. Al-Qaeda has been significantly degraded. Its capacity to conduct an attack against the US now from Afghanistan is not there. And of course, Osama bin Laden was brought to justice 10 years ago.

“So, the President felt that as we’re looking at the world now, we have to look at it through the prism of 2021, and not 2001. The terrorism threat has moved to other places, and we have other very important items on our agenda, including the relationship with China, including dealing with everything from climate change to COVID, and that’s where we have to focus our energy and resources.”

He said that the US goal ultimately was an Afghanistan that found a just and durable settlement to the conflict going on for four decades. “…in that situation and that environment, terrorism is less likely to emerge.”

Asked if he agreed with new CIA Director Bill Burns’ stand that US intelligence capability will diminish and what he would do about it, Blinken added that the country would have the means to see if there is a resurgence, a re-emergence of a terrorist threat from Afghanistan.

“We’ll be able to see that in real time with time to take action. And we’re going to be repositioning our forces and our assets to make sure that we guard against the potential re-emergence,” the Secretary said.

By the way, he pointed out, the Taliban was also committed not to allow Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups that might target the US to re-emerge. “We’re going to hold them to that commitment.”

Pointed out that he himself had said that he did not really trust the Taliban, he said that that’s exactly why the US would make sure that the country had the assets appropriately in place to see this coming — if it comes again, to see it, and to be able to deal with it.

“This is, again, a very different world than the one we had in 2001. We have different capabilities, different assets, and I think a greater ability to see something coming with time to do something about it.”

Blinken said that ultimately it was in no one’s interest in Afghanistan, whether Taliban or anyone else and certainly not the Afghans, to see that country descend once again into a long civil war.

“And if the Taliban is going to participate in some fashion in governance, if it wants to be internationally recognized, if it doesn’t want to be a pariah, it’s going to have to engage in a political process.”

Told that the Director of National Intelligence had said that the Taliban was likely to attempt to retake power by force if the US left and if it was acceptable that girls were beaten up in Taliban-held areas, he said: “It’s not acceptable. … I think Afghanistan in many ways is a transformed society. No one, starting with the Taliban, has an interest in going back to a civil war, because I think what everyone recognises is that there’s no military resolution to the conflict. So if they start something up again, they’re going to be in a long war. That’s not in their interest either.”

The US officer also asserted that the US would continue to support the Afghan security forces. “We’ve trained more than 3,00,000 troops over the years, and it’s a strong force. It’s going to continue to have international support, including ours. We’re going to be engaged in the peace process to see if we can move this in a better direction.”

He said that if the Taliban held any expectation of getting international acceptance, of not getting treated as a pariah, it would have to respect the rights of women and girls.

“Any country that moves backwards on that, that tries to repress them, will not have that international recognition, will not have that international status, and indeed, we will take action to make sure to the best of our ability that they can’t do that.”

As for Biden administration on the verge of breaking a major promise to increase the number of refugee admissions to 62,000, Blinken said the President had made that the US could start the process of actually bringing more people in, and beyond that lifting the restraints the previous administration had imposed.

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