“Afghans are going to have to decide their future,” U.S. President Joe Biden said Friday in his first face-to-face meeting with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani.The two met in the White House Oval Office as U.S. forces continued their withdrawal from the nation in south-central Asia.Biden insisted that Washington’s support was not ending. The United States will maintain support for Afghanistan’s military from abroad as well as continue to provide economic and political support, the president said.”We’re going to stick with you,” Biden said.’A choice of values’Ghani, sitting alongside Biden, said Afghanistan was grateful for the blood and treasure America had spilled during the past two decades to defend his country, which now finds itself facing direct battle against the Taliban.Ghani compared his position at this juncture to that of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln in 1861, at the start of the war between the Northern states and the rebellious Southern states.”It’s a choice of values, the values of an exclusionary system or inclusionary system. We’re determined to have unity, coherence, national sense of sacrifice, and we’ll not spare anything,” the Afghan president said, adding that on Friday, his government’s forces had “retaken six districts, both in the south and the north,” from the Taliban.Ghani added, “We will overcome all odds.”Those odds may be long.Abdullah Abdullah, who leads the High Council for National Reconciliation in Afghanistan, left, and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani meet with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon in Washington, June 25, 2021.Earlier in the day, during a meeting at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the Afghan president smiled when asked by a reporter about a reported U.S. intelligence analysis concluding his government might fall within six months of the American military withdrawal.”There have been many such predictions and they have all proven — turned out false,” Ghani replied.”We will remain partners with the Afghan government and the Afghan military. And we will continue to work toward our common goal in a new and different way,” Austin said.After meeting Thursday with Ghani and the country’s unity government Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Senator Mitch McConnell said Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces “leaves our Afghan partners alone to confront threats that his own top advisers acknowledge are grave and growing worse. The Taliban, emboldened by our retreat, is rolling back years of progress, especially for the rights of Afghan women, on its way to taking Kabul.”Asked on Friday by VOA to respond to the Senate minority leader’s concerns, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden “had made a decision, which is consistent with his view that this was not a winnable war, to bring the U.S. troops home — after 20 years of fighting this war.”FILE – Former White House national security adviser John Bolton talks to VOA, June 24, 2020.Ghani’s visit to the White House was “absolutely critical for the future of Afghanistan,” according to former national security adviser John Bolton, who termed it possibly the last opportunity “to try to persuade President Biden, if not to reverse his decision to withdraw all American forces, at least to provide more time to provide some other indication of continuing American support that will give the people of Afghanistan confidence that we’re not abandoning the country.”Bolton, who served in the administration of former President Donald Trump, told VOA’s Afghan Service, “We need to look for additional ways to show that the United States is not leaving entirely, that this is not going to be a Vietnam situation.”The chaotic 1975 withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Vietnam followed the signing of a peace accord that effectively handed the country to the communists in Hanoi.Target date: September 11Biden has said the American military presence in Afghanistan will end by September 11 of this year — the 20th anniversary of the coordinated suicide attacks against the United States by al-Qaida, which was based in Afghanistan under the protection of the then-governing Taliban.The drawdown of U.S. and NATO forces, which formally began May 1, has led to an unprecedented escalation in fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents, dealing fresh blows to slow-moving U.S.-brokered peace negotiations between the Afghan adversaries.FILE – Afghan commando forces are seen at the site of a battlefield where they clashed with Taliban insurgents in Kunduz province, Afghanistan June 22, 2021.The insurgents have in recent weeks captured dozens of new districts, and both sides are said to have suffered heavy casualties, with Afghan civilians continuing to bear the brunt of the country’s long war.This has led to a sense of urgency concerning the Afghans — interpreters, translators, drivers and other support civilian personnel — who worked for the U.S. military over the past two decades.Those who have already applied for special immigrant visas “will be relocated to a location outside of Afghanistan before we complete our military drawdown by September, in order to complete the visa application process,” Psaki told reporters Friday.U.S. officials told The Associated Press on Thursday that about 650 U.S. troops were likely to remain in Afghanistan as a security detail for diplomats.Troops at Kabul airportThe officials also told AP that several hundred additional U.S. forces would remain at the Kabul airport, possibly until September. The troops’ role, the officials told AP, would be to aid Turkish troops who are providing security there. It would be a temporary move until a more formal Turkey-led security operation was in place, the officials said, according to the AP.The Afghan government and the Taliban have been holding peace negotiations in Doha, Qatar, since last September, with the host government, among others, playing the role of facilitator. But the process has made no significant headway, with each negotiating team blaming the other for the deadlock.Carla Babb at the Pentagon, Ayaz Gul in Islamabad and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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