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Biden Defense Chief Arrives in Afghanistan as Taliban Stresses Trump Exit Plan



U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Kabul Sunday on his first trip to Afghanistan as Pentagon chief, as local and global leaders offer conflicting opinions on when the U.S. should leave, state media TOLO Television reported.

He is set to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and senior government officials after flying in from India—but it is Taliban leaders who are setting the tone of the visit after vowing to restore Islamic rule once the Americans leave.

Austin, a retired U.S. Army general, expressed doubts in February that the U.S. will meet the May 1 pullout deadline. Responding to a two-day NATO meeting, he told Pentagon reporters at the time he will not be forced into any “hasty” or “disorderly” troop withdrawals. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg last month appeared to agree, saying troops “will only leave when the time is right.”

President Joe Biden told ABC News Wednesday that the U.S. may need to extend the May 1 deadline, but not by “a lot longer.”

The Taliban said it has lived up to the cease-fire terms laid out by the Trump administration, and now the U.S. must live up to their end of the deal by leaving after two decades of conflict.

Suhail Shaheen, a member of the Taliban negotiation team, cautioned Austin and this most recent U.S. administration—the fourth since the start of the war there in October 2001— to abide by the agreement spearheaded by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The Taliban has not attacked U.S. or NATO forces since signing that agreement in February 2020. However, unclaimed attacks on Afghan security forces and targeted bombings have increased.

“They should go,” Shaheen said just one day ahead of Austin’s visit to Kabul. “After that, it will be a kind of violation of the agreement. That violation would not be from our side. … Their violation will have a reaction.”

A plethora of withdrawal, peace and military plans have been drawn up by international groups including NATO and the United Nations. But almost none of these organizations are in agreement with each other on what the U.S. should do next in Afghanistan.

American taxpayers spend $4 billion each year to prop up Afghanistan’s security forces, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently warned Ghani that the Taliban is likely to make deep territorial gains if and when U.S. and NATO troops pull out.

Currently, both Taliban and Afghan government officials are reviewing an eight-page “peace government” plan put forth by Washington. The plan highlights constitutional reform and the need to hold democratic elections.

Trump last year claimed U.S. troops would be out of Afghanistan by Christmas, a campaign promise which did not happen.

The Liberty Buzz reached out to the White House Sunday for additional remarks.

Commanding General of US Forces in Iraq, Gen. Lloyd Austin looks out the window as he and US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (unseen) fly in a Blackhawk helicopter July 11, 2011 in Iraq. During a surprise visit to Afghanistan and Iraq and his first as Defense Secretary, Panetta declared that the United States is “within reach” of “strategically defeating” Al Qaeda as a terrorist threat.
PAUL J RICHARDS / Pool/Getty Images



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