US spy agencies warn Biden of possible Taliban takeover of Afghanistan
WASHINGTON, Mar 27: US intelligence agencies have told the Biden administration that the Taliban could overrun most of Afghanistan within two to three years if U.S. troops leave before a power-sharing deal is reached between the warring sides, a news report said on Friday.
Such a takeover potentially would allow al Qaeda to rebuild in Afghanistan, the New York Times reported, quoting anonymous U.S. officials.
President Joe Biden is deciding whether to meet a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of the last 3,500 American troops that was set in a February 2020 accord struck with the Taliban under his predecessor, Donald Trump.
Some U.S. officials who favor keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan are using the intelligence report to argue that the soldiers should remain beyond the deadline, the Times said. The White House declined to comment. The classified intelligence assessment was prepared last year for the Trump administration, the Times said.
Biden on Thursday told his first White House news conference that it would be hard to comply with the deadline, which also requires the departure of some 7,000 allied forces. At the same time, Biden said he "could not picture" U.S. troops being in the country next year.
The Taliban on Friday said it would resume hostilities against foreign forces - which ended under the U.S.-Taliban deal - if they remain beyond the deadline.
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 If troops are not withdrawn by May 1, the spokesman promised, the Taliban would "continue its jihad and armed struggle against foreign forces."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 Mr. Biden and his top national security officials.
While Lloyd J. Austin III, the secretary of defense, 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. -REUTERS