By Andy Roesgen
CHICAGO, United States (AA) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke via telephone on Thursday with a top Afghan official who is expected to lead intra-Afghan peace talks with the Taliban as American forces withdrawal from that country.
Blinken and Afghanistan High Council for National Reconciliation Chair Abdullah Abdullah spoke about the commitment to "seek a just and durable political settlement that ends the war in Afghanistan," as the situation deteriorates, according to State Department spokesman Ned Price.
US forces have a deadline of the end of August to withdraw, after arriving en masse in Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The drawdown is allowing Taliban forces to gain control of more than half of the 419 district centers in the country and the group is close to overtaking several provincial capitals.
America's top military commander, Gen. Mark Milley, said a complete Taliban takeover of the country is "not a foregone conclusion," but admitted that it remains a possibility.
He said it is also possible Afghanistan's security forces will hold against the Taliban or that there might be a negotiated settlement with the Taliban.
During the call, Blinken and Abdullah "deplored continuing Taliban attacks, loss of innocent Afghan lives and displacement of the civilian population," according to Price. "They discussed ways to accelerate peace negotiations and achieve a political settlement that is inclusive, respects the rights of all Afghans, including women and minorities, allows the Afghan people to have a say in choosing their leaders, and prevents Afghan soil from being used to threaten the United States and its allies and partners."
Price said the two leaders "underscored the widespread international condemnation" of Taliban attacks and pledged to remain in close contact.
It is estimated that as many as 70,000 Afghanis helped the US in its 20-year war effort in Afghanistan, either directly or in ancillary roles, such as humanitarian needs.
The US is now trying to get many who assisted to the airport in Kabul to get them out of the country, fearing reprisals from the Taliban.