Washington: Even with three northern Afghan regional hubs falling to the Taliban in a single day Sunday, including the vital provincial capital of Kunduz, President Joe Biden and his advisers were not changing plans to complete the US military withdrawal from the country by month’s end, according to a senior administration official.
Biden had been briefed on the developments Sunday, according to a White House official, and aides were in contact with the US Embassy in Kabul. Senior Pentagon officials were also reported to have been on phone calls about the Taliban’s advances.
Despite that, the senior administration official, who was not authorised to speak publicly about the details, said that Biden was not changing course on the troop pullout.
Over the course of the past week, Taliban fighters have swiftly moved to retake cities around Afghanistan, assassinating government officials and killing civilians in the process. But administration officials have publicly continued to hold out hope that Afghan forces have the resources and ability to fight back, while at the same time negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban that seems more unlikely by the hour.
When asked about the Taliban’s advances Friday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters that Biden had long been prepared to make “difficult choices” as part of his commitment to disengaging from Afghanistan.
“The president made clear: After 20 years at war, it’s time for American troops to come home,” Psaki said. “He also feels and has stated that the Afghan government and the Afghan National Defense Forces have the training, equipment and numbers to prevail, and now is the moment for the leadership and the will in the face of the Taliban’s aggression and violence.”
On Sunday, the senior administration official said that the White House strategy remained unchanged. The Defence Department was on standby to provide resources if needed, the official added, but the prevailing strategy was to continue as planned and leave it to Afghan officials to retake Kunduz and defend other cities.