The former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, who co-chaired a study group on the Afghan peace process said there is a need to verify that the Taliban is meeting all conditions in the Doha agreement before resorting to a further troop reduction in Afghanistan.
“All of the conditions that are outlined in the February 2020 agreement would have to be verified,” Dunford said in an interview with TOLOnews on Friday.
He said the future of Afghanistan should be compatible with the Constitution of the country and within the structure of the achievements the country has made over the last two decades.
“I think their understanding is that all US forces will leave on May 2021. We recommended US forces do not leave on the first of May 2021 unless the conditions in the February 2020 agreement are met,” said Dunford.
When asked about the prospect of an interim government in the country, Dunford said that a decision on a future government is up to Afghans to decide.
“How we transition to the future and what the outcome of the Afghan peace negotiations is very much going to be up to the Afghan people,” said Dunford. “What I will go back to are the conditions, so we have facts, the parties are meeting in Doha and I think it is a positive, but we also have not made the kind of progress since February 2020 that we think is necessary to complete the agreement,” he said.
The bipartisan study group assigned by US Congress has called on US President Joe Biden administration to slow the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, remove the May 1 exit deadline and instead reduce the number of troops only as security conditions improve in the country.
The report finds that removing international forces by May 1 deadline set in the US-Taliban peace agreement could lead to a civil war in Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan Study Group began its Congressionally mandated work in April 2020, just weeks after the US and the Taliban signed an agreement on February 2020 on the conditions for a US troop withdrawal that would end US’ long military engagement in Afghanistan.
“We have an interest in an Afghanistan that respects basic human rights. We do not, however, believe that securing these interests requires a permanent US military presence in Afghanistan,” the group said in the report.
The report said that: “An immediate diplomatic effort to extend the current May 2021 withdrawal date in order to give the peace process sufficient time to produce an acceptable result.”
Afghanistan Study Group makes following recommendations for the Afghan peace process: clarify the end state, reinforce the conditionality of a final US troop withdrawal, clarify the US commitment to the current Afghan state, work diplomatically to promote the success of the negotiation process and design an overarching regional diplomatic strategy.
The report has mentioned that a recognition that, in addition to conducting counterterrorism operations and supporting the Afghan forces, a key objective of the ongoing US military presence is to help create conditions for an acceptable peace agreement.
The February 2020 Doha agreement and the subsequent troop reductions clearly demonstrated that the US is prepared to withdraw from Afghanistan. “It should not, however, simply hand a victory to the Taliban,” it said.
“Key consideration of the Study Group was that while we support the values of the Afghan government and recognize that its collapse could create significant problems for the region and beyond, US decisions about America’s presence in Afghanistan cannot be held hostage to the divisions, ineffectiveness, corruption, and shortsightedness that the Afghan government has too often displayed,” the report says.
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.
But the Taliban has said that the presence of US forces after May is a violation of the US-Taliban peace agreement.