AT Monitoring Desk
KABUL: No one can say with any certainty what will happen in Afghanistan once U.S. President Joe Biden withdraws the remaining 2,500 to 3,500 U.S. troops by September 11 to end the country’s longest war, a top White House official said Sunday.
“I can’t make any guarantees about what will happen inside the country. No one can,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told the “Fox News Sunday” show.
“All the United States could do is provide the Afghan security forces, the Afghan government and the Afghan people resources and capabilities, training and equipping their forces, providing assistance to their government,” he said. “We have done that and now it is time for American troops to come home and the Afghan people to step up to defend their own country.”
Biden’s decision to withdraw the remaining troops has drawn a mixed reaction in Washington. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called it a grave mistake and “a retreat in the face of an enemy.” Senator Lindsey Graham said it was “dumber than dirt and devilishly dangerous.” Even some Democrats were concerned by the decision, including Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who worried the U.S. may “lost what we were seeking to achieve.”
But other lawmakers say it was long past time for the U.S. to withdraw the troops it sent to Afghanistan to defeat the al-Qaida terrorists who masterminded and carried out the September 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S. that killed nearly 3,000 people. But critics of Biden’s decision to withdraw troops 20 years later say it could lead to creation of a new terrorist haven in Afghanistan.
Asked in a separate interview on CNN whether the U.S. “won the war” in Afghanistan, Sullivan replied that the U.S. had “achieved its objective” by degrading the presence of al-Qaida and killing al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in a 2011 mission in Pakistan.
He said the U.S. troop withdrawal now was a recognition that the U.S. needs to “focus on the battle of the next 20 years, not the last 20 years.”
Sullivan, in the Fox News interview, was asked whether the U.S. was risking a repeat of what happened in Iraq in 2011, where Islamic State militants seized territory after U.S. troops withdrew. Then-President Barack Obama sent troops back into Iraq, but Sullivan said Biden had no intention of sending American forces back to Afghanistan once they are withdrawn.
As he announced his decision to withdraw U.S. troops, Biden said the United States would monitor any terrorist threats in Afghanistan and keep substantial assets in the region.
“He has no intention of taking our eye off the ball,” Sullivan said. “We have the capacity, from repositioning our capabilities over the horizon, to continue to suppress the terrorist threat in Afghanistan.”
But CIA Director William Burns told the Senate Intelligence Committee last week that with the departure of U.S. troops, America’s ability to collect intelligence and act against extremist threats in Afghanistan will be diminished.
A United Nations report in January said there were as many as 500 al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan.