US President Joe Biden has warned that it will be “tough” to meet a deadline of May 1 to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, in agreement with the Taliban, ahead of a key summit hosted by Russia on Thursday to revive it Afghan peace process.
The Taliban insurgency has largely kept its promise not to attack US or other foreign troops since the deal was signed in February last year, under Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.
However, the rebels have stressed that the date for ending America’s longest war is inflexible.
“It can happen, but it’s tough,” Biden said when asked about the May 1 deadline in a TV interview airing on Wednesday. “I’m making that decision now.”
The Taliban reacted quickly to Biden’s comments, and a spokesman told AFP that it would have “consequences” if the United States did not stick to the agreed timetable – which further increases the pressure on the fragile peace process.
Biden also took a direct sweep of Trump’s Afghanistan policy, saying it was “not a very solidly negotiated deal” that the then president oversaw.
“The failure to have an orderly transition from the Trump presidency to my presidency … has cost me time and consequences. That is one of the issues we are talking about now, when it comes to Afghanistan,” he added.
The United States must withdraw all its troops by May 1 in an agreement that saw the Taliban agree to peace talks with the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani.
The country has been engulfed by a two-decade repeat of the Taliban since Islamist militants were fired by a US-led invasion in 2001 to house al-Qaeda’s terrorist network.
Trump, who called the conflict America’s “endless war,” reduced the number of troops in his last days in office to 2,500 – their lowest figure since the operation began 20 years ago.
According to the deal struck by the Taliban last year, the rebels promised not to allow territory to be used by “terrorists” – the original target of the US invasion following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
But peace talks held in Qatar since September have made little progress.
Washington wants to start the process and get the Taliban and the Afghan government to agree to some form of power-sharing.
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Major city centers in Afghanistan are embroiled in a worsening terror campaign in the form of deadly attacks on politicians, officials, academics, rights activists and journalists.
The Taliban denies any responsibility, but the government says they are to blame – either directly or by using proxies.
As the corn deadline approaches, Russia on Thursday will host a conference of high-level delegations from the Taliban and the Afghan government – as well as from the United States, Pakistan and China.
During the talks, the insurgency will be led by Taliban co-founder and deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, while the Afghan government will be led by former executive director Abdullah Abdullah.
Pakistan, which has the most external influence over the Taliban, is represented by veteran diplomat Mohammed Sadiq, while the United States sent a long-serving Afghan envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad.
The UN, which is not taking part in the Moscow talks, meanwhile announced that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had nominated a new personal envoy, Jean Arnault, to work for peace in Afghanistan.
Analysts suggest a face-saving compromise on the US withdrawal could be removed, and Washington says it has fulfilled its obligations while some US experts linked to Afghan forces have been advisory.
A complete withdrawal of American troops – given the vital protection of Afghan ground forces – would further loosen Kabul’s tough grip on the countryside.
( Jowharwith AFP)