KABUL: The Afghan Taliban warned that it will not tolerate the presence of US-led foreign troops in the country beyond the May deadline previously set for their withdrawal. The group said it is capable of defending its “soil, homeland and rights” if the conflict continues.
Its statement on Monday followed an announcement by NATO the day before that coalition soldiers will remain in Afghanistan because the Taliban has failed to comply with its key obligation under a historic agreement signed with Washington in the Qatari capital, Doha, last year. In return for the withdrawal of foreign troops it called, among other things, for the group to sever ties with Al-Qaeda and reduce levels of violence.
“Unfortunately most countries, including the European Union, are either directly or indirectly involved in the tragedies, destruction, bombings, killings and various other crimes being experienced by our people for the past 20 years,” the Taliban said.
“Some are still exerting efforts to extend the presence of foreign occupation forces in Afghanistan and prolong the ongoing conflict. However, if some discard the Doha accord and keep searching for excuses to continue the war … then history has proven that the Afghan Mujahid nation can valiantly defend its values, soil, homeland and rights.”
The group added that if foreign troops do not leave, it would use its “legal right to free its homeland” through “every lawful means necessary.” It called for the implementation of the Doha agreement, saying: “It will prove beneficial and in the interest of America, along with other involved countries, as well as the Afghans.”
The comments by NATO officials on Sunday followed announcements by US President Joe Biden’s administration that it will review the Doha deal, which was signed by the Trump administration and the Taliban in February last year. In response to the statements by Biden’s team, the Taliban halted talks with Afghan authorities that have been taking place in Doha since last September, with little sign of progress, as part of the agreement.
The government of President Ashraf Ghani, which was not included in the negotiations for the Doha agreement, and which set free thousands of captured Taliban fighters under pressure from the Trump administration last year, welcomed the decision by the new regime in Washington to review the agreement, and the prospect of the prolonged presence of foreign troops.
Authorities in Kabul said the Taliban, emboldened by the planned departure of overseas forces, has escalated and extended the fighting in Afghanistan. Meanwhile the insurgents blame Ghani’s embattled government for derailing peace talks to in an attempt to remain in power.
The intra-Afghan talks were designed to find a political solution after more than four decades of conflict, and to agree a political plan for the future of the country. There have been disagreements among government leaders and politicians over the talks, and the head of the parliament this week joined some other politicians and a few Taliban leaders in demanding the formation of an interim government. Ghani has said he will only transfer power to an elected leader when his second term as president expires in four years.
Some observers fear NATO’s plan to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan could provoke Taliban retaliation, resulting in the further escalation of the conflict and more intervention from neighboring nations through their proxies in the country.
Idris Oz, an analyst, said the situation in Afghanistan has never been so complex and that the prolonged presence of foreign troops “is a clear case of security paradox.”
He added: “The gap has widened between the people and the state — the government has no backing from the people. The security forces fighting are (aimless) and do not know why they are fighting, since they don’t have motivation.
“Every day, statements by high officials on the formation of an interim government makes the situation even worse … and all these things make the Taliban stronger … I feel that this year will witness heavy fighting.”