Biden facing ‘serious dilemmas’ on Afghan troop withdrawal: US official

Published February 13, 2021
US President Joe Biden faces  “serious dilemmas” in Afgha­nistan as a deadline to withdraw troops nears and the Taliban show no sign of ending their bloodshed. — AFP/File
US President Joe Biden faces “serious dilemmas” in Afgha­nistan as a deadline to withdraw troops nears and the Taliban show no sign of ending their bloodshed. — AFP/File

KABUL: US President Joe Biden faces “serious dilemmas” in Afgha­nistan as a deadline to withdraw troops nears and the Taliban show no sign of ending their bloodshed, a top US official warned.

The new US leader has ordered a review of the deal Washington cut with the Taliban last year, which promised the withdrawal of all foreign forces by May 1 in return for security guarantees from the militants and a commitment to peace talks with the Afghan government.

The talks are progressing painfully slowly, but scarcely a day goes by without a bomb blast, attack on government forces, or a targeted assassination somewhere in the country.

“Violence level remains very, very high... which is shocking and deeply disappointing,” a senior US State Department official said.

“It is unquestionably damaging the atmosphere for any kind of a settlement of Afghanistan’s conflict.” The Taliban routinely deny responsibility for the attacks — and many are claimed by the militant Islamic State group — but Washington has no doubt who is to blame.

“In our view, the Taliban are responsible for the vast majority of the targeted killings that we have seen,” the official said, adding they had created “an ecosystem of violence”.

“It is clearly intended, I think, to demoralise citizens... to add to doubts that people have about their government and to add to the aura of inevitability of (a Taliban) victory,” he added.

The new Biden administration, he said — which was committed to upholding the deal despite the review — now faced “serious dilemmas”.

If Washington decided to keep troops on after the deadline, US forces faced coming under attack once again — following a year without a single American death in combat.

But if the US pulls out as scheduled, it leaves the fragile Afghan government at the mercy of a determined insurgent force that could result in fresh carnage that would be impossible for the world to ignore.

The Pentagon has over the past year reduced the number of US troops in Afghanistan to 2,500, while Nato defence ministers will later this month discuss the fate of their 10,000 personnel in the country — most in backroom support roles.

Any risk to the lives of “Ameri­can and coalition forces... is going to be very, very high on our priorities”, the US official warned. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has urged Biden to avoid rushing the withdrawal, and wants the new US President to put more pressure on the Taliban to make concessions at ongoing peace talks in Doha, Qatar.

“The Islamic Republic (government) side is anxious and ready to negotiate.

They went to Doha prepared... and they got nobody to meet with and that’s disappointing,” the US official said. The Taliban were winning few friends with its approach, he added.

“What they miscalculate is that it grotesquely misshapes the battlefield in terms of world opinion and in terms of the support that this country has.”

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2021

Opinion

Eid and money
Updated 13 May 2021

Eid and money

Why is a thing more real when you can touch, taste or feel it as opposed to something that is only experienced?
On whose side?
13 May 2021

On whose side?

Ambassadors strive to ‘well-serve’ their country.

Editorial

Eid during Covid
Updated 13 May 2021

Eid during Covid

It is indisputable that our actions now will prevent matters from becoming far worse.
13 May 2021

Foreign policy gaffes

MIXED messages, retractions and clarifications from the government have become an all-too-common occurrence when it...
13 May 2021

Zimbabwe series win

PAKISTAN’S crushing innings victories over Zimbabwe in the two Tests were a befitting end to their highly...
PM’s Saudi visit
Updated 12 May 2021

PM’s Saudi visit

It is very important that Pakistan take no step, or agree to any demand, that can have an adverse effect on national sovereignty.
12 May 2021

A new intifada?

THE situation in the occupied territories over the past few days has been incendiary, with tensions boiling over as...
Updated 12 May 2021

SOP violations

ON Monday, Sindh Police officials were given a well-deserved slap on the wrist by a judicial magistrate in Karachi...