U.S. President Joe Biden called on Afghans to decide the future of their country as he met on June 25 with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the country's High Council for National Reconciliation.
Biden called the Afghan leaders "two old friends" as he welcomed them to the White House and said U.S. support for Afghanistan was not ending even as U.S.-led international forces work to complete their withdrawal after nearly two decades of war.
"Afghans are going to have to decide their future, what they want," Biden said.
Speaking in the Oval Office seated next to Ghani, he also said the "senseless violence" that continues to plague the county "has to stop." It will be "very difficult," he said, but added, "We’re going to stick with you and we’re going to do our best to see to it you have the tools you need."
Ghani said he respected Biden's decision to withdraw U.S. troops, saying the decision "has made everybody recalculate and reconsider" as the partnership between the United States and Afghanistan enters a new phase.
The Taliban has taken control of dozens of districts from government forces in recent weeks, raising concerns the Western-backed government in Kabul and the battered Afghan security forces may collapse after U.S.-led international forces complete their withdrawals by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The Pentagon estimates that the Taliban now controls 81 of Afghanistan's roughly 400 districts, and talks on a political settlement between Afghan government officials and the Taliban have stalled.
Abdullah said the talks should not be abandoned despite surging Taliban attacks.
"I think we shouldn’t shut the door unless it's completely shut by the Taliban," Abdullah said in an interview with Reuters. "We can’t say no to talks despite a lack of progress or in spite of what’s happening on the ground."
Afghan officials told RFE/RL on June 25 that there had been heavy fighting in the northern provinces of Baghlan, Kunduz, Balkh, Takhar, and Faryab, as well as in Paktia and Zabul in the southeast in the preceding 24 hours as security forces launched offensives against the Taliban.
Ghani said Afghan security forces had retaken six districts on June 25.
Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Ghani said it was Kabul's job to "manage consequences."
He added that Biden had clearly articulated that the U.S. Embassy would continue to operate and security aid would continue.
Biden has asked Congress to approve $3.3 billion in security assistance for Afghanistan next year and is sending 3 million doses of vaccines to help Afghanistan battle COVID-19.
But U.S. officials have been clear that Biden is unlikely to approve U.S. military support to Kabul to halt the Taliban's advances beyond advice, intelligence, and aircraft maintenance.
Ghani and Abdullah also met with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon during their visit. Austin reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to an enduring U.S.-Afghan defense relationship, a Pentagon statement said on June 25.
Ghani, Abdullah, and Austin also discussed the withdrawal and the transition to a new relationship with Afghanistan and the Afghan forces, the statement said, adding that both sides reaffirmed the importance of ensuring that Afghanistan never again serves as a safe haven for terrorists who threaten the Afghan people, the United States, or its allies.
In 2001, U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban regime for harboring Al-Qaeda, which was behind the September 11 terrorist attacks. The mission turned into America’s longest war.