Biden administration to review US-Taliban withdrawal deal

Published January 23, 2021
US President Joe Biden has stated that while he would reduce the number of combat troops in Afghanistan, he would not withdraw US military presence. — AP/File
US President Joe Biden has stated that while he would reduce the number of combat troops in Afghanistan, he would not withdraw US military presence. — AP/File

The Biden administration said it will review a landmark United States deal with the Taliban, focusing on whether the insurgent group has reduced attacks in Afghanistan, in keeping with its side of the agreement.

Washington struck a deal with the Taliban in Qatar last year, to begin withdrawing its troops in return for security guarantees from the militants and a commitment to kickstart peace talks with the Afghan government.

The US had committed to reducing the number of its troops in Afghanistan from 13,000 to 8,600 within 135 days of signing the deal, and working with its allies to proportionally reduce the number of coalition forces in Afghanistan over the same period. Currently, there are 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan.

But violence across Afghanistan has surged despite the two sides engaging in those talks since September.

President Joe Biden's newly appointed national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, spoke with his Afghan counterpart Hamdullah Mohib and “made clear the United States' intention to review” the deal, said National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne late on Friday.

Specifically, Washington wants to check that the Taliban are “living up to [their] commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence in Afghanistan, and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and other stakeholders”, her statement continued.

It added that Sullivan “underscored that the US will support the peace process with a robust and regional diplomatic effort, which will aim to help the two sides achieve a durable and just political settlement and permanent ceasefire". Sullivan also discussed US' support for protecting recent progress made on women and minority groups' rights as part of the peace process.

The statement is in line with Biden's stance on Afghanistan, who has stated that while he would reduce the number of combat troops in Afghanistan, he would not withdraw US military presence.

Biden's nominee for state secretary, Anthony Blinken, had also hinted earlier this week that an increase in violence in Afghanistan may lead to US retaining some of it troops.

"We want to retain some capacity to deal with any resurgence of terrorism, which is what brought us there in the first place," Blinken said in his confirmation hearing. “We have to look carefully at what has actually been negotiated. I haven't been privy to it yet."

He added, however, that "we want to end this so-called forever war".

When contacted about Horne's statement, the Taliban said they remained “committed to the agreement and honour our commitments”.

“We expect the other side to remain committed to the agreement too,” Mohammad Naeem, the group's spokesman in Qatar, told AFP.

Washington's move was met with a sigh of relief from officials in Kabul after months of speculation over how the new administration would potentially recalibrate the Afghan policy.

Mohib, the Afghan national security adviser, tweeted that during the call the two sides “agreed to work toward a permanent ceasefire and a just and durable peace” in the country.

Another top Afghan government official lambasted the Taliban's failure to live up to the February 2020 deal, saying the agreement had failed to achieve its stated goals.

“The agreement so far, did not deliver a desired goal of ending Taliban's violence and bringing a ceasefire desired by the Afghans,” Sediq Sediqqi, Deputy Interior Minister and former spokesman to President Ashraf Ghani said on Twitter.

“The Taliban did not live up to [their] commitments.”

Deadly attacks and high-profile assassinations have increased in recent months, particularly in Kabul where several journalists, activists, judges and politicians have been murdered in brazen daylight attacks.

The Taliban have denied responsibility for these killings, but Afghan and US officials have blamed the group for the murders.

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