Blinken in Afghanistan for troop withdrawal talks
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken began an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to brief officials on Washington's plans to withdraw all American troops before this year's 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Blinken met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani as well as senior US officials in Kabul and briefed them on President Joe Biden's Wednesday announcement to end "the forever war", which began in response to the 2001 September 11 attacks.
"I wanted to demonstrate with my visit the ongoing commitment of the United States to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanistan," Blinken said after meeting Ghani.
"The partnership is changing, but the partnership is enduring."
The unconditional withdrawal - four months later than a deadline agreed with the Taliban last year - comes despite a deadlock in peace talks between the insurgents and the Afghan government that threatens to leave a power vacuum that could plunge the country deeper into violence.
"A horrific attack 20 years ago... cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021," Biden said in a nationally televised address Wednesday.
"It's time to end the forever war."
The Pentagon has around 2,500 troops in Afghanistan from a high of over 100,000. Thousands more serve as part of a 9,600-strong NATO force, which will withdraw at the same time.
The pullout has caused consternation in Afghanistan, where citizens live in fear of daily bombings and targeted assassinations by an emboldened Taliban.
Fighting continues unabated on the ground despite months of talks in Qatar between the Taliban and Afghan government negotiators.
Turkey announced this week that it would host a separate international peace conference on Afghanistan from April 24, but the Taliban have said they will not attend.
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