The Taliban has called on President-elect Joe Biden to honor a peace deal negotiated with the Trump administration, which calls for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by May to help advance peace talks.
“Steps must now be taken to end the war, not to prolong it, and the agreement was made for the purpose,” Mohammad Naeem, a Taliban spokesman, said Jan. 18, according to Bloomberg.
Naeem was referring to a four-component peace pact between the United States and the Taliban (pdf), signed in February 2020, which included a Trump administration commitment to the Taliban to remove all U.S. military, intelligence, and contractor personnel from Afghanistan by May as a move to spur peace negotiations.
The Taliban promised to prevent the use of Afghanistan territory to launch attacks against the United States and its allies, and committed to engage in peace talks with the Afghan government that would eventually lead to a “permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.”
In his statement, Naeem warned that “the lack of complete implementation of the agreement can affect the ongoing process of negotiations.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a Jan. 5 interview with Bloomberg’s David Rubenstein, said he expects the intra-Afghan negotiations to be difficult, but expressed optimism about their ultimate success.
“There’s every reason to expect that this agreement will be complicated, fraught, one step forward, two steps back, and that there remains an awful lot of work to do,” Pompeo said.
“We’ve built out a real coalition to try to work to build out an Afghanistan that is reconciled and peaceful,” he continued. “I am confident that it will be both fraught, but I am optimistic as well. I’m optimistic that the Afghan people know that the days of endless fighting have to end.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his negotiating team have been pushing for a cease-fire agreement before settling other issues, including a power-sharing arrangement with the Taliban, who instead want to wait until the final stages of the talks to declare a cease-fire.
Some senior U.S. commanders have been skeptical of the Taliban’s stated commitment to peace, with the Pentagon noting continued high levels of Taliban violence against the Afghan government and other targets.
In the latest deadly attack in the capital of Kabul, two female Supreme Court judges were gunned down on Jan. 17 on their way to work, according to a statement from the country’s Presidential Palace.
“The United States condemns today’s assassinations of female supreme court judges and calls for a prompt investigation,” the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Ross Wilson, said in a Jan. 17 statement on Twitter.
“The Taliban should understand that such actions for which it bears responsibility outrage the world and must cease if peace is to come to Afghanistan,” Wilson added.
Shaharzad Akbar, the chairwoman of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, wrote on Twitter that the country is suffering “what seems to be a systematic massacre and the world seems to be just watching.”
In a bid to move the process further down the roadmap to a peace settlement, President Donald Trump in November ordered a reduction of U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan to 2,500 from 4,500.
Christopher Miller, in his final days as the acting secretary of defense, announced the 2,500 troop level last week, saying it brings the United States “closer than ever to ending nearly two decades of war.”
Miller said the United States remains in a position to “ensure that Afghanistan is never again used to harbor those who seek to bring harm to the United States of America.”
Naeem hailed the drawdown as “good advancement.”
Miller also said on Jan. 17 that the Pentagon is planning for additional troop reductions to zero by May, adding that “any such future drawdowns remain conditions-based.”
Trump in a statement on Jan. 14 alluded to his longstanding desire to get out of Afghanistan entirely.
“United States military troops in Afghanistan are at a 19-year low. Likewise, Iraq and Syria are also at the lowest point in many years. I will always be committed to stopping the endless wars,” Trump said.
Biden’s nominee for national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told CNN early in January that the incoming administration would support “diplomacy” with the Taliban, although it remains unclear whether Biden will honor the May deadline for troop withdrawal.
A Bloomberg request for comment on the Biden team’s plans in this regard went unanswered.
The U.S. military action in Afghanistan in October 2001 was aimed at overthrowing the Taliban regime, running al-Qaida out of the country, and laying the groundwork for a global “war on terrorism.”
During Biden’s time as vice president, the Obama administration pushed U.S. troop totals in Afghanistan to 100,000 in a failed bid to compel the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. When Trump took office four years ago there were about 8,500 troops in the country, and he raised it to about 13,000 that summer.
Billions of dollars have been spent in America’s longest war, which saw tens of thousands killed, mostly Afghan civilians.