US President Joe Biden will meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his former political foe, Abdullah Abdullah, today to discuss Washington's support for Afghanistan as the last US troops pack up after 20 years of war and government forces struggle to repel Taliban advances, Reuters reports.
The Oval Office meeting may be as valuable to Ghani for its symbolism as for any new US help because it will be seen as affirming Biden's support for the beleaguered Afghan leader as he confronts Taliban gains, bombings and assassinations, a surge in COVID-19 cases and political infighting in Kabul.
"At a time when morale is incredibly shaky and things are going downhill, anything one can do to help shore up morale and shore up the government is worth doing," said Ronald Neumann, a former US ambassador to Kabul. "Inviting Ghani here is a pretty strong sign that we're backing him."
Biden's embrace, however, comes only months after US officials were pressuring Ghani to step aside for a transitional government under a draft political accord that they floated in a failed gambit to break a stalemate in peace talks.
Biden's first meeting as president with Ghani and Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, will focus on "our ongoing commitment to the Afghan people" and security forces, said White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
Biden has asked Congress to approve $3.3 billion in security assistance for Afghanistan next year and is sending three million doses of vaccines there to help it battle COVID-19.
Biden will urge Ghani and Abdullah, foes in Afghanistan's two last presidential elections, "to be a united front" and he will reaffirm US support for a negotiated peace deal, Jean-Pierre said.
American officials, however, have been clear that Biden will not halt the US pullout – likely to be completed by late July or early August – and he is unlikely to approve any US military support to Kabul to halt the Taliban's advances beyond advice, intelligence, and aircraft maintenance.
Ghani and Abdullah spent yesterday discussing the situation in Afghanistan with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Biden, who pledged to end America's "forever wars", announced in April that all US forces would be out of Afghanistan by the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by Al-Qaeda on the United States.
He made the decision even though a 2020 US-Taliban deal forged under former President Donald Trump set 1 May as the pullout deadline.