NEW YORK, APR 18 – United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken, returning from an unannounced visit to Kabul, pushed back on criticism of President Joe Biden’s plan to remove American combat troops from Afghanistan, arguing that Washington had fulfilled its mission to end al Qaeda’s ability to strike at the U.S.

   Blinken told ABC-TV’s Sunday’s news programme “This Week” that while he respected retired generals including David Petraeus and Joseph Dunford, who commanded troops in Afghanistan but opposed the pullout plan, the Biden administration was following a “deliberate and informed” process leading to the troop withdrawal.

“I have great respect for General Petraeus, General Dunford and others, but we had a very deliberate and fully informed process leading up to the decision by the president,” Blinken said.

“[But we] went to Afghanistan 20 years ago, and we went because we were attacked on 9/11, and we went to take on those who had attacked us on 9/11, and to make sure that Afghanistan would not again become a haven for terrorism directed at the United States or any of our allies and partners,” Blinken said, adding: “We achieved the objectives that we set out to achieve.”

  His remarks come as some U.S. military and intelligence officials have warned publicly that the U.S. risks seeing Afghanistan’s fledgling government be overtaken in a military conflict with the Taliban should the U.S withdraw from the region, an outcome that would essentially reverse the gains of the past two decades following the Taliban’s ouster from power shortly after the U.S. invasion.

The Biden administration said last week that the U.S. would withdraw all combat troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, while missing a May 1 deadline previously agreed upon by the Trump administration and Afghanistan’s government.

In electing to remove all troops, officials said Biden went against military leaders who argued for keeping a U.S. presence on the ground.

  But Blinken argued the threats to the U.S. have shifted in the two decades since war began. The U.S. also has “the means to see if there is a resurgence, a reemergence of a terrorist threat from Afghanistan,” he said.

“So the president felt that as we’re looking at the world now, we have to look at it through the prism of 2021, not 2001,” Blinken said.