Blinken admits a civil war or Taliban takeover is a possibility

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Tuesday Afghanistan could be taken over by Taliban or descend into civil war when the US withdraws troops by September 11 – the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

Blinken told CNN a civil war or Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is “certainly a possible scenario” when the US withdraws all its troops from the country.

The Biden administration is “planning for every scenario” but stated the US is “not disengaging from Afghanistan” and will continue to be “deeply engaged” in supporting the country long after troops have left.

But the decision has divided opinion with some officials and lawmakers voicing concerns that pulling troops out of Afghanistan too quickly could lead to retaliation from the Taliban.

Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, who is on the Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN “it’s difficult to see a scenario that doesn’t end in civil war or a Taliban takeover.”

Blinken addressed these concerns Tuesday, admitting that unrest is a possible consequence. “That is certainly a possible scenario,” he said.

He urged what he described as “free riders” in the region to start using their “influence” to help keep the country stable.

“I don’t think ultimately either the Afghan government or the Taliban do, none of Afghanistan’s neighbors do, neighbors and other countries in the region that have basically been free riders for the last 20 years, as we’ve been engaged there with our NATO allies and partners who are now going to have to decide, given their interests in a relatively stable Afghanistan, given the influence that they have, whether they’re going to try to use that influence in a way that keeps things within the 40-yard line,” he said.

Blinken denied that the withdrawal of troops was the US “disengaging” from the country, saying the nation continues to be committed to “its people, development, economic assistance, humanitarian assistance, support for the security forces.”

“So a lot of people are having their minds concentrated by the president’s decision and besides that – even as we are withdrawing our forces, we are not disengaging from Afghanistan,” he said adding the US remains “deeply engaged in the diplomacy, in support for the Afghan government and its people.”

“We have trained over the years more than 300,000 of them so all to that remains and there are different actors are work now who I hope will keep moving this in a more positive than negative direction.”

He added: “But we have to plan, we are planning for every scenario.”

Blinken also insisted that the Biden administration is working to ensure Afghan locals who “put their lives on the line” working with US forces and diplomats in the country over the last two decades can apply to be expedited to the US.

Thousands of people worked alongside the US on the ground in the country and have been left fearful for their lives once the US withdraws.

“We have had this program in Iraq and also in Afghanistan and we want to make sure that people who put their lives on the line, working with American folks in uniform, working with our diplomats who put, not just themselves in jeopardy, potentially their families as well, can get expedited consideration if they decide that they want to try to come to the United States,” he said.

“We have got about 18,000 people already in the pipeline, 9,000 of whom are relatively far along, another 9,000 are just at the beginning of the process, and you know, clearly more are likely to sign up, so we are working very hard to make sure that we’ve got in place the resources to work that program – to work it quickly, expeditiously.”

Blinken called on the lawmakers in the House and the Senate to “work together and make sure that the program has the resources it needs.”

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said on Tuesday he hoped many Afghans will want to stay to “contribute to the nation’s future” but said it was crucial the US protects those who feel they need to leave the nation.

“Failing to do so sends a global message – Don’t fight with the Americans, because when they’re finished they leave you behind. That’s not something we can tolerate,” he said.