(WASHINGTON) — As the U.S. military drawdown from Afghanistan continues, the White House announced that the Afghan president and chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation will visit with President Joe Biden on Friday in Washington.
President Ashraf Ghani and Chairman Abdullah Abdullah’s visit will “highlight the enduring partnership between the United States and Afghanistan as the military drawdown continues,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Sunday.
While Biden set the goal to have all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, a U.S. official said the reality is the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan could be completed as early as July.
The latest release from U.S. Central Command this past week showed that more than 50% of the withdrawal has taken place already.
Despite the speed of the withdrawal, the White House highlighted its commitment to continuing to support Afghanistan.
“The United States is committed to supporting the Afghan people by providing diplomatic, economic, and humanitarian assistance to support the Afghan people, including Afghan women, girls and minorities,” according to the White House statement.
However, the accelerated exit is raising concerns for the family of civil engineer Mark Frerichs, a U.S. Navy veteran who has been held hostage by the Taliban since January 2020, and for those who worked on behalf of the Pentagon in Afghanistan and were promised a special immigrant visa from the U.S. The special visa program has long faced delays, leaving many feeling abandoned amid growing threats from the Taliban.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during an unannounced visit to Kabul in April that he is “committed” to the SIV program, but he has not committed to any reforms to make the process quicker or address the enormous backlog.
“The decisions to withdraw and leave those who served and helped the U.S. government will be judged in bad words, and no one will trust in USA in the future. It’s going to be a catastrophe and mass killing tragedy by the Taliban, who believe those who worked with USA are no longer Muslim,” said “Abdul,” an Afghan contractor who has long waited for a U.S. visa and whose real name ABC News agreed not to use for his safety.
After being granted conditional approval, he was told in December that his application was rejected because the U.S. embassy could not verify his employment. But his American employer was Frerichs, who had been kidnapped.
“We understand that the Taliban wants one of their guys released from U.S. custody in exchange for Mark. This guy has been in prison for 16 years and the war is coming to an end. We think people on both sides should be able to go home when it ends,” Frerichs’ sister Charlene told ABC News.
Psaki, in the White House statement on Sunday, went on to say, “The United States will remain deeply engaged with the Government of Afghanistan to ensure the country never again becomes a safe haven for terrorist groups who pose a threat to the U.S. homeland. The United States continues to fully support the ongoing peace process and encourages all Afghan parties to participate meaningfully in negotiations to bring an end to the conflict.”
ABC News’ Luis Martinez, Matt Seyler, Conor Finnegan and James Gordon Meek contributed to this report.
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