KABUL: Foreign troops will be driven out of Afghanistan by force if the US fails to meet a May 1 deadline to withdraw its remaining soldiers, the Taliban said on Friday.
This follows US President Joe Biden’s announcement that he could extend the American military presence in the country.
Foreign troops led by the US have been stationed in Afghanistan since the ousting of the Taliban from power in late 2001. Under a deal signed by the US and Taliban in Qatar in February 2020, the US military should completely leave Afghanistan by May. The US has already withdrawn several thousands of its soldiers, but some of its 2,500 troops still remain on Afghan soil.
Biden admitted on Thursday that the remaining troops could stay in Afghanistan for “tactical reasons” after the deadline. He added, however, that he did not intend to keep the troops in Afghanistan past next year.
“If anyone violates the Doha agreement and adopts the path of war, Afghans have a long history of giving sacrifices for the freedom of their country and can drive out by force the foreign troops,” Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told Arab News over the phone.
“No one should try the will of Afghans in this regard . . . and all foreign troops must leave Afghanistan on the set time as Afghans have the right to decide about their country. Whoever wants to extend the 20 years of war will suffer more financial and human losses,” he said, adding that the Doha agreement signed by the group with the previous US administration of Donald Trump was “the logical, rational and good way for ending the war and tragedy.”
Biden’s announcement that it may be hard for the US to meet the May 1 deadline comes ahead of an American-sponsored conference on the Afghan peace process in Turkey where, in the coming weeks, international players, the Taliban and the Afghan government, are expected to negotiate the formation of an interim administration in Afghanistan that would involve Taliban representatives — an idea opposed by President Ashraf Ghani whose second term in office started last year.
Ghani, whose government was sidelined from the US-Taliban talks in Doha last year, has been demanding that foreign troops remain in Afghanistan for a few more years and that the Biden administration review the US deal with the Taliban.
In response to Biden’s Thursday announcement, Ghani’s spokesman, Dawa Khan Menapal, said that foreign troops needed to stay longer as the Taliban had not fulfilled their obligations under the Doha agreement to reduce violence in the country and cut ties with foreign militants, including Al-Qaeda.
Following the Doha accord, the Taliban have halted attacks on foreign troops but at the same time intensified their attacks on Afghan security forces.
“We, from the start, opposed the hasty withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan. We are facing a joint threat and it needs a joint campaign,” Menapal told Arab News.
While Biden said that State Secretary Antony Blinken was meeting NATO allies to decide how to proceed with the withdrawal in a “safe and orderly way,” concerns are rising that missing the May deadline may “put the Taliban in a dilemma and may prompt some of the field commanders to resume attacks on foreign troops,” Kabul-based political analyst and former journalist, Taj Mohammad, told Arab News.
“My analysis is that there will be more bloodshed, more violence, attacks and counter-attacks,” he said.
Others believe the extension of the foreign military presence was aimed at forcing Ghani and the Taliban to reach compromise in Turkey.
“The extension is another lifeline support for a political deal for Afghanistan to succeed. This extension has multi-dimensional aspects of a different kind to almost all stakeholders,” analyst and former journalist, Zabihullah Pakteen, said.
Former government adviser, Torek Farhadi, said that the postponement of the withdrawal and the Turkey meeting were the last chance to prevent another civil war in Afghanistan.
“The Europeans, who are concerned about a wave of refugees from Afghanistan in the event of another civil war, tried hard to convince the Americans to stay and keep the status quo,” he told Arab News, adding that Washington wanted to pull out from Afghanistan as it was already frustrated with Ghani over rife corruption in Kabul and rising ethnic tensions.
“America was exhausted. After a trillion-dollars investment, it became ready to throw in the towel and decide to leave, ending its longest war at the 20th year anniversary mark,” he said.
If the US does decide to leave, Farhadi added, at the conference in Turkey and other meetings to follow, the Afghan dossier would lose its international military character and become “an internal conflict peace-making endeavor.”