Gen. Austin S. Miller, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said that “If the violence isn’t reduced, it’s going to make a peace process very, very difficult; it would be very difficult for any side to make the necessary compromises,” Reuters reported.
“Taliban violence is much higher than historical norms,” Miller told Reuters. “It just doesn’t create the conditions to move forward in what is hopefully a historic turning point for Afghanistan.”
Miller said that the fighting now was an indicator that not only would there be a spring offensive - a move many diplomats view as against the spirit of the Doha agreement - but that it could be more intense than before.
It comes as negotiations have largely stalled in Doha in recent weeks and Taliban leaders have left Qatar, a senior state department official told Reuters, leading to growing fears that talks could be on the brink of collapse.
Taliban keeps close ties with Al-Qaeda
Taliban has kept up a close relationship with Al-Qaeda despite having pledged to stop cooperating with the group, according to the head of a UN panel monitoring the insurgency reported by NBC news.
"We believe that the top leadership of Al-Qaeda is still under Taliban protection," said the head of the UNB panel that tracks terrorist groups in Afghanistan.
The Taliban's association with Al-Qaeda has continued even though the Taliban signed an agreement with the US a year ago that bans cooperation with or hosting of groups — and despite a public statement by Trump administration Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the Taliban had "made the break with terrorist groups.”
"There is still clearly a close relationship between Al Qaeda and the Taliban," said Edmund Fitton-Brown, the coordinator of the UN panel responsible for tracking the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan.
The reports of the UN Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team are based in part on information shared by foreign governments' intelligence services.
"We believe that the top leadership of Al Qaeda is still under Taliban protection," he said.
According to the UN monitoring team's last report in January, there are 200 to 500 Al-Qaeda fighters across about 11 Afghan provinces.
Experts say untangling two groups that have lived and fought alongside each other for decades — and have even intermarried — will be difficult.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in a telephone conversation with his Afghan counterpart Hamdullah Mohib on Jan. 22, said the Biden administration would review the Trump administration's February 2020 US-Taliban agreement, the White House said in a press release.
There are 2,500 troops left in Afghanistan, and the agreement between the Taliban and former US President Trump stipulated that all of them should be removed by May 2021.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in a pre-ministerial press conference on Monday reiterated that the presence of the alliance’s troops in Afghanistan is "conditions-based," saying “we will not leave before the time is right.”
“Our common goal is clear. Afghanistan should never again serve as a haven for terrorists to attack our homelands. So, our presence is conditions-based,” Stoltenberg said. While no ally wants to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary, we will not leave before the time is right.”
He said that NATO has significantly adjusted its presence as part of the Afghan peace process, but added:
“However, peace talks remain fragile and the level of violence remains unacceptably high, including the Taliban attacks on civilians. The Taliban must reduce violence, negotiate in good faith and live up to their commitment to stop cooperating with international terrorist groups,” he said.
NATO strongly supports the peace process in Afghanistan, Stoltenberg said, adding that “this is the best chance for a lasting political solution.”
He said NATO defense ministers will continue to assess the situation on the ground in Afghanistan and monitor developments very closely.