The Pentagon on Wednesday reiterated that any withdrawal from Afghanistan will be conditions-based.
Pentagon’s spokesman John Kirby in a question about a possible increase in the number of US forces in Afghanistan said that the US Defense Secretary is assessing all options, but said that the best solution to the conflict in Afghanistan is a political settlement of the conflict.
Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has said that the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan should be tied to progress in peace negotiations between the Afghan Republic and the Taliban, rather than “slavishly” bound to an end-of-April deadline.
At the end of April, “these peace talks won’t be over,” Maas said at an event organized by weekly Die Zeit and three other German newspapers. “Our fear is that the Taliban could use this as a reason to leave the peace talks and seek a military solution,” he said.
“So our approach is to say that we must couple both processes, the withdrawal of foreign forces with the peace negotiations,” he said. “We don’t have to hang on slavishly to the date of the end of April — these things must be linked and when the peace negotiations are concluded successfully, the time will have come to withdraw foreign troops.”
Based on the US-Taliban peace deal, which was signed on February 29, 2020, the then US president Donald Trump’s administration pledged to withdrawal all US forces from the country by the end of May.
“We are committed to a political settlement in Afghanistan, one that includes the Afghan government, as we have said many times, an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process—and we are going to continue to support achieving a political settlement. No force posture decision has been made and I wont speculate beyond that—we have long believed that the political resolution is the best way forward and the secretary and the department are committed on that,” said Kirby.
But, Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban negotiator, has said that the presence of US forces after May is a violation of the US-Taliban peace agreement.
What does the Taliban say?
The Taliban have said that an Islamic government will replace the current government in Afghanistan under the incumbent President Ashraf Ghani as a result of peace negotiations.
Citing the US-Taliban peace agreement in Doha on February 29, the Taliban have said that based on the deal, an Islamic government will replace the Ghani govt as a result of the intra-Afghan peace negotiations.
In a press conference following their meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran this week, the Taliban’s delegation said that if the US and NATO forces continue to remain in Afghanistan after May, the Taliban will deserve the right to defend their country.
However, the Office of National Security Council (ONSC) has said that it is premature to talk about the political system in Afghanistan.
The ONSC has suggested that the Taliban should stop shedding blood instead of talking about their own government.
“Based on the agreement, (the US-Taliban peace agreement), this government will be dissolved and another government will be formed based on the intra-Afghan negotiations. Regarding this issue, we have had some trips to the Islamic Republic of Iran and Russia,” said Suhail Shaheen, a member of the Taliban's peace negotiating team.
Meanwhile, US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has said that the US air strikes have increased in Afghanistan in the past three months.
The Taliban has been saying that the US strikes were against the spirit of the US-Taliban peace deal.
“The Doha agreement says that the US forces will not conduct air strikes except in war time and any other sensitive situation,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban.
This comes as peace talks between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban are underway in Doha since September 12, however no breakthrough has been achieved from the talks so far.
“The issue is that the Afghan delegation has asked the Taliban to merge with the present system, but the Taliban have rejected the demand,” said Tahir Khan, a Pakistani journalist.