AN “EXTREMELY DIFFICULT” SITUATION: PM LEE
Mr Lee said the Biden administration inherited an “extremely difficult” situation, highlighting that the US had invested “considerable blood and treasure” in Afghanistan.
“But it was an intractable task given the complex history, geography and tribal rivalries of the place,” he said.
Mr Lee said successive US presidents had declared their resolve to withdraw from Afghanistan, adding that he told Ms Harris that Singapore understands Mr Biden’s reasons for his decision.
“The US intervention has stopped terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a safe base for 20 years,” he said.
“For this, Singapore is grateful. We hope Afghanistan does not become an epicentre for terrorism again, and post-Afghanistan in the longer term, what matters is how the US repositions itself in the Asia-Pacific, engages the broader region and continues the fight against terrorism.”
Mr Lee pointed out that Singapore participated in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and sent provincial reconstruction teams to support the Afghan people in their reconstruction of the country.
These efforts were made as Afghanistan is a “key battlefront” in the global fight against extremist terrorism, Mr Lee explained.
“Extremist ideas and capabilities were exported from there, (to) all over our region, and they pose a security threat to Singapore too. The Jemaah Islamiyah group, for example, had direct links to Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan,” he said.
Nevertheless, Mr Lee said countries all over the world are watching developments in Afghanistan “very closely”.
“Foremost in everybody’s minds is the safety and security of the civilians, and I hope all sides will work to ensure this,” he added.
When asked by a reporter “what went wrong” in the US’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, Ms Harris said there will be “plenty of time to analyse what has happened”.
“But right now, we are singularly focused on evacuating American citizens, Afghans who worked with us, and Afghans who are vulnerable, including women and children,” she said.
“That is our singular focus at this time, understanding that we have a priority in making sure that the people that, in particular, helped America achieve its responsibilities in terms of our priorities and the reason we went to Afghanistan in the first place … are safe.”
Ms Harris said there has been a “successful drawdown” of the US embassy in Afghanistan without American casualties, adding that the US military has done “very hard and difficult work” to contain Kabul airport and ensure successful evacuations.
Mr Lee acknowledged that countries adjust their positions from time to time and this could sometimes result in “hiccups”.
But he reiterated that going forward, perceptions of the US’ commitment to region would be influenced by how it engages its broad range of allies in the region.
“Countries remain with long-term interests, with long-term partners, and the mark of a country which can succeed, (is) that it takes these interests and partners seriously,” he said.
Ms Harris said her task at hand relates to the US’ relationship around the world, and the agreements reached with Singapore were evidence of an enduring relationship and commitment.
“I’m standing here in Singapore, because of our commitment to a long-standing relationship, which is an enduring relationship with the Indo-Pacific region, with Southeast Asian countries and in particular, with Singapore,” she added.
Source: Channel News Asia