U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the people of Afghanistan, neighboring countries, and the Taliban have no interest in the country descending into civil war after the withdrawal of U.S. troops later this year.
Blinken, who made an unannounced visit to Kabul on April 15, said after meeting with Afghan leaders that everyone he heard from during his visit expressed a strong desire for peace.
"Even the Taliban, as we hear it, has said it has no interest in that," Blinken said in response to a question at a news conference about the possibility of a civil war breaking out. "The Afghan people clearly have no interest in that."
He noted that the Taliban wants international recognition and international support for Afghanistan, including the ability of its leaders to travel freely.
"And if it were to provoke a civil war, none of those things would be possible," he said.
Blinken also warned the Taliban that any attack on U.S. troops as they pull out would be met with "a very forceful response."
Blinken spent about eight hours in Kabul briefing officials on Washington's plans to withdraw all U.S. troops by September 11 -- the 20th anniversary of the attacks that triggered the U.S. and NATO intervention in Afghanistan.
President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal plans on April 14, setting a new deadline for the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops to leave the country.
Blinken arrived from Brussels where NATO on April 14 announced that its roughly 7,000 non-U.S. forces in Afghanistan would be departing within a few months as well.
After meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani; Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation; and Afghan civic leaders, Blinken reiterated that the United States would continue to support the Afghan National Security Forces while working to advance diplomacy and said the process was in the Taliban's interest as well.
"It's very important that the Taliban recognize that it will never be legitimate and it will never be durable if it rejects a political process and tries to take the country by force," he said.
Blinken said he made the trip to demonstrate "the ongoing commitment of the United States to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanistan."
He also said Washington would continue its humanitarian support to Afghanistan and advocacy for the rights of women and girls.
In his meeting with Ghani, Blinken assured the Afghan president that "the partnership is changing, but the partnership is enduring."