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Biden to speak Thursday about Afghanistan amid swift U.S. pullout

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Biden meets with Afghan President Ghani and Chairman of Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah in Washington
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House, in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

July 8, 2021

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on Thursday will offer his most extensive comments to date about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, a pullout that is raising concerns about a civil war there and drawing Republican criticism.

A White House official said Biden would update the American people on the situation and that no major policy pronouncements were expected.

The Democratic president, who is due to speak at 1:45 p.m. (1745 GMT), has been under pressure from critics to give a more expansive explanation for his decision to withdraw.

The United States last weekend abandoned Bagram air base, the longtime staging ground for U.S. military operations in the country, effectively ending America’s longest war. The Pentagon says the withdrawal of U.S. forces is 90% complete.

Washington agreed to withdraw in a deal negotiated last year under Biden’s Republican predecessor, Donald Trump. Biden overruled military leaders who wanted to keep a larger presence to assist Afghan security forces and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a staging ground for extremist groups.

Biden’s order in April to pull out U.S. forces by Sept. 11 after 20 years of conflict has coincided with major gains by the Islamist militant Taliban movement against overwhelmed Afghan forces after peace talks sputtered.

The commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, General Austin Miller, warned last week that the country may be headed toward a civil war.

The U.S. intelligence community believes the Afghan military is weak and that the Kabul government’s prospects for survival in the short term are not good, U.S. government sources familiar with official assessments said.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Biden would meet his national security team on Thursday “to receive a periodic update on the progress of our military drawdown from Afghanistan.”

“Early tomorrow afternoon, the president will make comments on our continued drawdown efforts and ongoing security and humanitarian assistance to the ANDSF and the Afghan people.”

ANDSF is the acronym for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

Some Republicans are criticizing Biden for the pullout, although Trump had also sought to end American involvement in the war.

Biden met Afghan leaders on June 25 and said U.S. support for Afghanistan would be sustained despite the pullout.

“Afghans are going to have to decide their future, what they want,” Biden said at the time.

The United States plans to leave 650 troops in Afghanistan to provide security for the U.S. Embassy.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Ross Colvin and Peter Cooney)

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