Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks to Department of Defense officials during a visit by United States President Joe Biden to the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia on February 10, 2021.
Carlos Barria | Reuters
WASHINGTON – Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters at the Pentagon on Friday that the Biden administration had not yet decided whether the United States would withdraw its troops by May 1st.
Last February, the United States signed a treaty with the Taliban that would initiate a permanent ceasefire and further reduce the US military’s footprint from around 13,000 soldiers to 8,600 by mid-July last year.
According to the agreement, all foreign armed forces would have left the war-tired country by May 2021. There are currently around 2,500 US troops in the country.
“I urge all parties to choose the path to peace. The violence must now decrease,” Austin said in his first press conference with reporters.
“I have told our allies that regardless of the outcome of our review, the United States will not make a hasty or disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan,” he said, referring to this week’s virtual NATO meetings.
“There will be no surprises. We will consult, consult together and decide together and act together,” said Austin of the NATO-led mission.
A day earlier, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would continue to assess the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. NATO joined the international security effort in Afghanistan in 2003 and currently has more than 7,000 soldiers in the country.
“Our goal is to ensure that we have a lasting political agreement that will allow us to leave in a way that doesn’t undermine our primary objective and that prevents Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven again.” [for terrorists]”Said Stoltenberg.
“The majority of the troops come from European allies and partner countries. We will do whatever is necessary to ensure that our troops are safe,” he said when asked if the alliance would be prepared for violence if the deal with the Taliban is reached is broken.
Members of the Kandahar Province Reconstruction Team depart to conduct an equipment inspection at a Ministry of Public Works facility in Afghanistan on Aug. 8.
Photo: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Timothy Chacon | Flickr CC
On Capitol Hill, bipartisan lawmakers urged a panel of experts on Friday recommending the United States not to reduce its military presence in Afghanistan.
“Since the US war in Afghanistan began nearly 20 years ago, more than 775,000 of our brave men and women in uniform have been sent to Afghanistan. More than 2,400 have made the ultimate sacrifice and another 20,000 have been wounded,” said Stephen Lynch, chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security Oversight and Reform said in his opening speech.
“Almost 20 years of US engagement in Afghanistan could very well be defined in the next three to six months. Probably with profound consequences for US national security and the future stability of the region,” he added.
The panel wrote in a report released earlier this month that US forces should hold troops in the war-torn country “to give the peace process enough time to reach an acceptable outcome.”
Continue reading: Biden should hold US troops in Afghanistan after the May deadline, the study group says
Recommendations from the Afghanistan Study Group, a congressional bipartisan body of the United States Institute of Peace, come as the Biden administration conducts a review of its troop levels in the region.
“When is enough, enough for American engagement in this region?” asked the Louisiana Congressman Clay Higgins. “If American forces have to be present, why do real boots have to be on the ground?”
Former chairman of the chief of staff, Joseph Dunford, co-chair of the Afghanistan Study Group, said US intelligence would deteriorate if the military withdrew from the country.
“In order to be effective in the fight against terrorism, you have to create an ecosystem of intelligence, if you will, and we would not have the networks available from an intelligence point of view, we would not have the availability of the platform, ie the systems that enable us to do them Gather information and we wouldn’t have a chance to strike quickly with the resources it takes to destroy terrorists once the information has developed their location, “Dunford, a retired four-star Marine general, told lawmakers .
“So if we were doing it from outside Afghanistan, you’d only have one geometry and response problem, you wouldn’t be as effective,” he added.
The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have cost US taxpayers more than $ 1.57 trillion since September 11, 2001, according to a Department of Defense report. The war in Afghanistan, now America’s longest conflict, began 19 years ago and cost US taxpayers $ 193 billion, according to the Pentagon.