US focus shifting to China from Afghanistan, says Blinken

Updated on Apr 18, 2021 10:48 PM IST

US secretary of state Antony Blinken said al-Qaeda, which carried out the attacks two decades ago, “has been significantly degraded.”

Antony Blinken played down concern that intelligence might be blindsided to terrorist threats emerging in Afghanistan.(Reuters)
Antony Blinken played down concern that intelligence might be blindsided to terrorist threats emerging in Afghanistan.(Reuters)
Bloomberg |

Withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan meshes with the Biden administration’s goal of focusing resources on China and the Covid-19 pandemic, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, as another top U.S. official said it was time for the Afghan people to “step up.”

“The terrorism threat has moved to other places,” Blinken said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “And we have other very important items on our agenda, including the relationship with China, including dealing with everything from climate change to Covid. And that’s where we have to focus our energy and resources.”

President Joe Biden said Wednesday that U.S. forces would fully withdraw from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, saying it’s time to end America’s “forever war.”

Blinken, who met with Afghan leaders in Kabul and NATO allies in Brussels last week, said al-Qaeda, which carried out the attacks two decades ago, “has been significantly degraded.”

He played down concern that U.S. intelligence might be blindsided to terrorist threats emerging in Afghanistan, saying the U.S. will be repositioning forces and assets to “guard against the potential reemergence.”

“We’ll be able to see that in real time with time to take action,” Blinken said. “We have different capabilities, different assets, and I think a greater ability to see something coming with time to do something about it.”

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a CNN interview that the U.S. withdrawal would eliminate an “excuse” for the Taliban to keep fighting and “the ball clearly is in the court of Taliban and their supporters.”

Yet he expressed caution about the Taliban’s readiness to agree to a political settlement, saying “what I hope they will go for and what they’re likely to go for are likely to be different things.”

The U.S. is committed to helping find a peace deal for Afghanistan that includes the Taliban, Blinken said.

“Ultimately, it is in no one’s interest in Afghanistan, whether it’s the Taliban or anyone else, it’s certainly not the people of Afghanistan, for the country to descend once again into civil war, into a long war.”

Separately, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said there are no guarantees about what will happen in Afghanistan.

“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,” Sullivan said on “Fox News Sunday.” “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.”

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