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Regional Interests

Biden Meets With Afghan Leaders Ahead Of U.S. Troops Withdrawal

NOEL KING, HOST:

There's a high-stakes meeting at the White House today between President Biden and Afghanistan's president, Ashraf Ghani. It's only a few weeks until the U.S. military exits Afghanistan after 20 years, and the near future in that country is very uncertain. Here's NPR's Diaa Hadid.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Shouting in Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Shouting in Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Shouting in Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Shouting in Arabic).

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Turbaned fighters clutch assault rifles and shout God is great, in this video posted on Twitter by a self-described Taliban journalist. They've captured yet another district, this one in the north.

Local media say the Taliban have overrun about 50 districts since President Biden announced in the spring that American and NATO forces would withdraw by September 11. The Taliban have captured a dam, a border crossing with Tajikistan. They even say they're going to pay salaries of civil servants in areas they've just captured. And to drive home the message that they're ascendant in Afghanistan, a Taliban spokesman says today's meeting between Afghan leaders and President Biden is pointless.

State Department spokesman Ned Price says this meeting is to show that even as the U.S. military presence is coming to an end...

NED PRICE: The partnership between our governments and, critically, the partnership between our peoples and the support that we will continue to offer for the Afghan people will remain.

HADID: But Afghans seem nervous. Ahmad Shuja Jamal is on the Afghan National Security Council. He says they're hoping to tell U.S. officials, among other things, about how the Taliban have largely dumped Washington-backed peace efforts.

AHMAD SHUJA JAMAL: Whether they're engaging in behavior that's consistent with the spirit of making peace with Afghans and the Afghan people.

HADID: Analysts like Ibrahim Bahiss think that's one way of saying Afghans want clear support for their government and its armed forces as peace negotiations with the Taliban stall.

IBRAHIM BAHISS: That would include getting some financial certainty, getting some military certainty, especially around the air force.

HADID: Bahiss says the U.S. withdrawal so far has been chaotic. And there's still no clarity on how the U.S. will maintain the Afghan air force, which relies on American contractors. Those contractors are leaving with U.S. forces. He says, they'll also bring up...

BAHISS: Whether there's going to be any kind of assistance offered should the Taliban military advances start threatening major government centers.

HADID: For example, what if the Taliban overrun multiple cities at once? What if they reach Kabul? So far, U.S. officials say there'll be no more interventions on the battlefield. In Kabul, Orzala Nemat heads a political think tank. She says Biden's withdrawal has allowed the Taliban to punish Afghans with...

ORZALA NEMAT: More violence, more targeted killings of journalists and women leaders, vaccinators or health workers.

HADID: Nemat hopes the Afghan delegation can convince the Biden administration to try to end the Afghan War and not just America's involvement in it. But Madiha Afzal, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, expects the meeting will be mostly symbolic.

MADIHA AFZAL: It's more sort of a public way of perhaps tying that bow on Afghanistan while assuring the world, look; we tried to do right by Afghans. We still stand on the side of this government, but this is all that we could do. Our time has ended in Afghanistan.

HADID: The meeting between Afghan leaders and Biden, says Afzal, is goodbye.

Diaa Hadid, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.