The Taliban militant group has reiterated its call for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan by May 1, the date stipulated in a deal it struck with the United States last year.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan seeks the withdrawal of all foreign forces from our homeland on the date specified in the Doha Agreement,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid wrote on Twitter.
The statement was published a day after US officials said that President Joe Biden still wants to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, but not until September 11.
“If the agreement is breached and foreign forces fail to exit the country on the specified date, problems will certainly be compounded and those who failed to comply with the agreement will be held responsible,” Mujahid added.
He added that, if the agreement was adhered to, a “pathway to addressing the remaining issues will be found.”
Former US President Donald Trump had struck a deal with the Taliban last year, agreeing to the May 1 withdrawal of all US and international troops.
In return, the Taliban vowed to cut ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups and enter into intra-Afghan peace talks. The peace talks have, however, faltered, leaving the status of international troops undecided as the May deadline approached.
The head of the Afghan National Reconciliation Council, Abdullah Abdullah, said in a Wednesday press conference that the withdrawal of US-led international troops would not spell doom for Afghanistan. He argued that international aid would continue in other forms.
Speaking to the Taliban, he said now was the time to reach a common understanding on peace so that would “prevent the country from a future war.”
However, the fact remains that Afghanistan is extremely dependent on its foreign military allies for training and logistics and intelligence support.
Quoted by local broadcaster TOLOnews, the head of the Afghan parliament, Mir Rahman Rahmani, said the time wasn’t right for the withdrawal of the international troops.
He added that the withdrawal of the international troops from Afghanistan would “deteriorate the situation more and even spark a civil war.”
Others were more blunt.
“It is the most irresponsible, selfish thing the United States could do to its Afghan partners,” an Afghan government peace negotiator in Doha, who wished not to be named, told dpa.
The Afghan negotiator said it might be the end of the war for Washington, but that Afghan partners will pay the price.
“They could have ended this in a responsible way, with a little more patience,” the negotiator said.
The Afghan presidential palace has not reacted to Biden’s decision yet. A presidential advisor had previously only said there would be no comment until Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had spoken to Biden about details.
But American officials say the decision is the right one.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the time has come for international forces to withdraw from Afghanistan, almost 20 years after a US invasion that was a response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. What started as an effort to overthrow the Taliban regime – which had provided support and shelter to the terrorists who planned the attack – has turned into the longest war Washington has ever waged.
“Together, we went into Afghanistan to deal with those who attacked us and to make sure that Afghanistan would not again become a haven for terrorists who might attack any of us,” Blinken said as he arrived at NATO headquarters in Brussels for a ministerial meeting.
The German defence minister went further and said ahead of Wednesday’s meeting that all NATO countries will pull out of Afghanistan together.
“We go in together, we go out together,” Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told broadcaster ARD on Wednesday morning.
There are currently about 10,000 soldiers from NATO and partner countries in Afghanistan, supporting the democratically elected government by training and advising security forces in their fight against Islamist extremists such as the Taliban.