US Officials Warn Biden Using Intelligence On Potential For Taliban Takeover Of Afghanistan: NY Times

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US officials warn Biden using Intelligence on potential for Taliban takeover of Afghanistan: NY Times

NEW YORK, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 27th Mar, 2021 ) :U.S. intelligence agencies have warned the Biden administration that the Taliban will take over much of Afghanistan If American troops leave before any deal between the militant group and the Afghan government, The New York Times reported Saturday, quoting anonymous US officials.

Such a takeover could potentially open the door for Al Qaeda to rebuild its strength within Afghanistan, the newspaper said, citing American officials.

President Joe Biden is considering whether to meet a May 1 deadline for the pullout of the last 3,500 American troops that was set in a February 2020 accord signed with the Taliban under his predecessor, Donald Trump.

The classified assessment, first prepared last year for the Trump administration but not previously disclosed, is the latest in a series of grim predictions of Afghanistan's future that intelligence analysts have delivered throughout the two-decade-long war, according to the Times.

But the intelligence has landed in a changed political environment. While former President Trump pushed for a withdrawal of all forces even before the terms of the peace deal required it, Biden has been more cautious, saying Thursday that he does not view May 1 as a deadline he must meet, although he also said he "could not picture" troops being in the country next year.

The decision looms as one of the most critical of Biden's presidency, the report said, as he has in the past argued for a minimal presence in Afghanistan.

Some senior Biden administration officials, according to the Times, have expressed skepticism of any intelligence prediction of a resurgence of a weakened Al Qaeda or of the Islamic State. Taliban commanders remain opposed to the Islamic State in Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda, which has little current presence in the country, could regroup instead in any number of other lawless regions around the world.

Also left unanswered by the intelligence warning is the question of whether Afghanistan could really prosper if American troops remain indefinitely, it was pointed out. Their presence would most likely prevent a collapse of the nation's own security forces and allow the government in Kabul, the Afghan capital, to retain control of its major cities, but the Taliban are still likely to gradually expand their power in other parts of the country, including curbing the rights of women, the Times said.

A Taliban spokesman said on Friday that the group was committed to last year's peace agreement "and wants the American side to also remain firmly committed." If troops are not withdrawn by May 1, the spokesman promised, the Taliban would "continue its jihad and armed struggle against foreign forces." Biden administration officials insisted no final decision had been made. Nevertheless, with the deadline looming, administration officials are jockeying to influence Biden and his top national security officials, the Times said. While Lloyd Austin, the secretary of defence, has not signaled what course of action he prefers, some Pentagon officials who believe American forces should stay longer have pointed to the intelligence assessment predicting a Taliban takeover of the country.

Some military commanders and administration officials have argued that any set date for withdrawing the approximately 3,500 American troops who remain, whether it is May 1 or at the end of the year, will doom the mission. The only way to preserve hard-fought gains in Afghanistan, they said, is to keep the small American presence there long enough to force a lasting deal between the Taliban and Afghan government.

These officials have used the intelligence assessment to make the point that a withdrawal this year will lead to a fall of the current government, a sharp erosion of women's rights and the return of international terrorist groups, the report said. A rush to the exit, some officials said, will only drag the United States back into Afghanistan soon after leaving much as was the case in Iraq in 2014, three years after the Obama administration pulled troops out of that conflict.

The White House has held a series of meetings on Afghanistan, and more are to come. On Thursday, the president said he was waiting for briefings from Secretary Austin, who met recently with Afghan officials, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who conferred this week with NATO allies, for their bottom-line advice on what he should