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US allies fear ‘retaliatory attacks’ after Joe Biden sets Afghanistan withdrawal date

Troops to leave on 11 September, prompting Taliban to declare victory

US allies fear that Joe Biden’s decision to renege on Donald Trump’s date for withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan could lead to a wave of Taliban attacks on Nato military and diplomatic personnel.

In a speech yesterday, Biden said that it was “time to end America’s longest war”, announcing that US troops would “come home” on 11 September 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks

A meeting of the North Atlantic Council at Nato’s Brussels headquarters saw a “tense” discussion of Biden’s plans, Politico reports, with some allies voicing concerns over “retaliatory attacks”, as well as fears that it is “too early for an orderly withdrawal of troops”.

Forever war

“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago,” Biden said yesterday. “That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021.”

While Biden’s speech yesterday was heavy on symbolism, the speed with which he is planning to withdraw US troops came as a surprise to some Nato allies who “now have the majority of forces on the ground in Afghanistan”, Politico reports.

At the meeting in Brussels yesterday, attended in person by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, allied nations raised concerns about “contingency plans in the event emergency evacuations are needed” as they “only learned in very recent days of Biden’s decision”, the news site continues.

While the decision to push back the date agreed by Trump, 1 May, prompted concerns over potential retaliatons and difficulties in effectively withdrawing troops, the allies presented a united front in a Nato statement released after the meeting, saying that the removal of troops would be “orderly, coordinated, and deliberate”.

The decision to take troops out of the country comes amid “renewed regional and international support for political progress toward peace”, the statement added. “We welcome the Istanbul Conference as an opportunity to move the peace process forward and to reinforce the progress made” in power-sharing talks.

While the tone coming from the western powers is one of a job well done, the line emerging from within Afghanistan is markedly different. “The Taliban believe victory is theirs”, the BBC reports.

‘Return to barbarism’

Haji Hekmat is the Taliban’s shadow mayor in the northern Balkh district. While not officially in power in the region, the Islamist group runs a complex intelligence network and “asserts their authority through sporadic checkpoints along key roads”, the BBC reports.

“Perfumed and in a black turban”, Hekmat is a “veteran member of the group”, the broadcaster adds, joining the Taliban in 1990 when it ruled the majority of the country following the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989.

“We have won the war and America has lost”, Hekmat says. The Taliban is now “ready for anything. We are totally prepared for peace, and we are fully prepared for jihad.”

At a news conference yesterday, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the US and its allies, “standing shoulder to shoulder”, had “paid a high price in both blood and in treasure” during the occupation of Afghanistan. But behind the scenes, “many believe the two decades of losses were nothing to boast about”, Politico says.

The reality on the ground is that “the Taliban have outlasted western firepower over two decades of bloody conflict,” writes The Times’ south Asia correspondent Hugh Tomlinson. And now, with Biden confirming an “unconditional withdrawal”, the militants have also “outlasted the US at the negotiating table too”.

“For ordinary Afghans and their benighted country, shattered by 40 years of conflict, a new nightmare beckons”, Tomlinson adds. And with US troops soon to depart, “the terrifying spectre of another collapse into civil war” and a “return to barbarism” once again looms on the horizon.

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