The Taliban have recently issued orders to their fighters to stop foreign militants from entering their ranks. The orders, reported earlier by the Afghan channel ToloNews, are believed to be at least part of an attempt to show the United States that the Taliban are taking steps toward breaking from Al Qaeda, or propaganda to make it seem that is the case, according to experts.
By all accounts, President Biden will be guided by his own long, personal experience with Afghanistan, and he has yet to make a decision. “We remain committed to ensuring that Afghanistan never again provides a base for terrorist attacks against the United States and our partners and our interests,” Mr. Biden said on Friday in virtual remarks at the Munich Security Conference.
Top Biden aides have said they are not rushing such a critical decision, and the administration is holding regular, high-level meetings on the matter, American officials said.
“I told our allies that no matter what the outcome of our review, the United States will not undertake a hasty or disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan that puts their forces or the alliance’s reputation at risk,” Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III told reporters on Friday after meeting virtually with other NATO defense ministers.
“At this time, no decisions about our future force posture have been made,” Mr. Austin said. “In the meantime, current missions will continue, and of course, commanders have the right and the responsibility to defend themselves and their Afghan partners against attack.”
Preparing for the possibility of renewed attacks against Americans, the military’s Central Command has been ordered to draw up a wide range of options to cover whether troops stay or go, and to counter even higher levels of Taliban violence, Pentagon officials say.
One option would be to increase the number of American airstrikes against Taliban targets across the country, including the fighters threatening major Afghan cities such as Kabul and Kandahar. This could require sending more strike aircraft to operate in the Middle East or ensuring that an aircraft carrier with its strike wing is operating in the Persian Gulf region.
Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.