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Despite having signed a ceasefire in February 2020, the US carried out several airstrikes on Taliban targets in recent days, including dispatching B-52 strategic bombers and Spectre close air support gunships on missions over Afghanistan as the US withdrawal enters its final stages.
US President Joe Biden told reporters on Tuesday that he “does not regret” the decision to pull US forces out of Afghanistan after 20 years of war, despite the fact that the Taliban have made significant gains against government forces in recent months, and would not alter the withdrawal schedule.
“We spent over a trillion dollars over 20 years, we trained and equipped with modern equipment over 300,000 Afghan forces and Afghan leaders have to come together. We lost thousands …. of American personnel,” Biden said.
“They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation,” he said of Afghan forces, who have been on the retreat in recent weeks. However, he added that the US would “continue to keep the commitments we made – providing close air support, making sure that their air force functions and is operable, resupplying their forces with food and equipment, and paying all their salaries. But they’ve got to want to fight. They have outnumbered the Taliban … I think they’re realizing they’ve got to come together politically at the top.”
“But I do not regret my decision,” he added.
A European Union official said on Tuesday that the Taliban Islamist militia group now controls 65% of Afghanistan, with half a dozen provincial capitals falling to them in recent days, including Kunduz, one of the country’s largest cities. Their rapid advance began in May, as the original withdrawal date the US agreed to in peace talks with the Taliban in 2020 came and went. Biden then committed to a September 11, 2021, final withdrawal date, and by early August 95% of US forces were already out of the country.
However, the Taliban made no such agreement with the Afghan government in Kabul, which was installed in 2001 by a US invasion that ousted the Taliban government. The Taliban regards the current government as a puppet state.
On Tuesday, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US’ longtime envoy to Afghanistan, told Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, that there was no point to them pursuing the Kabul government’s overthrow, as the US would politically isolate a Taliban government if it came to power. The US has given its support to the idea of a government of national unity that would include the Taliban, but neighboring countries like China have indicated they are more concerned about stability in the Central Asian country, which has served as a harbor for terrorist groups like the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, al-Qaeda, and Daesh, than they are about a Taliban government coming to power.