Foreign Troops to Stay in Afghanistan Beyond May

Quoted by Reuters, a NATO official said “there will be no full withdrawal by allies by April-end.”

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Quoting four senior NATO officials, Reuters reported that international troops plan to stay in Afghanistan beyond the May deadline envisaged by the Taliban’s deal with the United States.

The US-Taliban deal signed in Doha last year in February calls for the full withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan by the end of May.

“There will be no full withdrawal by allies by April-end,” a NATO official said as quoted by Reuters.

“Conditions have not been met,” the official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. “And with the new US administration, there will be tweaks in the policy, the sense of hasty withdrawal which was prevalent will be addressed and we could see a much more calculated exit strategy.”

Violence remains high amid the peace negotiations between the Afghan Republic and the Taliban teams in Doha that started last year in September. The negotiators agreed on rules and procedures for the talks after three months of discussions. The teams went back to Doha earlier this month after a three-week break during which they consulted their leaders on the issues that will be added to the agenda of the negotiations.

But NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said: “No decision has been made. NATO defense ministers will address Afghanistan at their meeting on February 17-18.”

“NATO fully supports the Afghanistan peace process, in order to ensure that Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for terrorists that would attack our homelands,” she said.

“We continue to call on all sides to seize this historic opportunity for peace. The Taliban must respect their commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence, and to engage in meaningful negotiations. Taliban violence continues to undermine the peace process, and it must end,” she said.

NATO spokesperson said that the mission of the organization remains unchanged.

“We continue to support the Afghan security forces in their fight against terrorism and to secure their country. Currently, the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission includes around 10,000 troops, a large majority of whom are non-US. No NATO Ally wants to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary, but we have been clear that our presence remains conditions-based. Allies continue to assess the overall situation, and to consult on the way forward,” the spokesperson said.

Quoted by Reuters, she said about 10,000 troops, including Americans, are in Afghanistan. Those levels are expected to stay roughly the same until after May, but the plan beyond that is not clear, the NATO source said.

This comes two days after US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, on Friday said that they are “taking a hard look” at how the Taliban is complying with its agreement with the US before deciding how to proceed.

Sullivan told an online program sponsored by the US Institute of Peace that the Taliban should participate in “real … not fake” negotiations with the Afghan government.

“What we’re doing right now, is taking a hard look at the extent to which the Taliban are in fact complying with those three conditions, and in that context, we make decisions about our force posture and our diplomatic strategy going forward,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan discussed the May 1 deadline to withdraw the remaining US forces in Afghanistan under the deal that was signed between the United States and the Taliban in Doha on February 29, 2020.

Abbas Stanekzai, the deputy head of the Taliban’s negotiating team, at a press conference in Moscow on Friday, rejected the group’s ties with al-Qaeda, saying that there is no member of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

A Taliban spokesman on Friday accused the US of violating its side of the agreement.

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Will the US finally get the hell out of Afghanistan once and for all?

Rupam Jain and Charlotte Greenfield of Reuters recently reported that U.S. and other foreign troops will remain in Afghanistan beyond May because conditions on the ground do not allow for the full withdrawal called for under the Feb. 29 agreement between the Taliban and the United States.

However, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu has issued a statement pushing back.

“No decision has been made,” Lungescu said, adding that NATO defense ministers will discuss the situation in Afghanistan during their upcoming meeting scheduled for Feb. 17 and 18.

Lungescu declined to comment further when contacted by Task & Purpose on Monday.

The Biden administration is currently evaluating whether the Taliban is engaging in meaningful peace negotiations with the Afghan government and meeting their other responsibilities under the Feb. 29 withdrawal agreement, a State Department spokesperson said.

Roughly 2,500 U.S. troops are currently in Afghanistan. Former President Donald Trump ordered steep drawdowns of U.S. forces in the country in the last year of his administration despite worsening violence in Afghanistan.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby has said that the Taliban have failed to meet their commitments to reduce the level of violence in Afghanistan and finally sever all ties with Al Qaeda.

The following day, Kirby told Neil Cavuto, host of Fox News’ Your World, that no decisions have been made about future troop levels in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin plans to speak with U.S. military commanders both in the field and at the Pentagon to have a better idea of what force levels in Afghanistan should look like going forward, Kirby said during the Jan. 29 interview.

“What has happened off the table is that peace is not been socialized to the Taliban commanders or rank and file,” Ghani said during the Aspen Security Forum. “Their leaders have taken pictures with suicide bombers and met wounded people in hospitals in Karachi and others.”

“If Afghanistan – God forbid – is left without a political settlement that brings peace, every terrorist group is going to migrate here and target us,” he continued. “Already, over 25 are here. They are trained by the Taliban. They are supported by them. They are nurtured by them. It’s a competitive but also a very cooperative relationship.”

Ultimately, President Joe Biden will have to decide whether to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan past May or end the U.S. military’s 19-year commitment there.

If Biden decides that it is time for the United States to leave Afghanistan, it would come more than 10 years after he predicted the end of the Afghan war on NBC’s Meet the Press.

 

Jeff Schogol is the senior Pentagon reporter for Task & Purpose. He has covered the military for 15 years

Foreign Troops to Stay in Afghanistan Beyond May