International troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond May withdrawal deadline

International troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond May withdrawal deadline
The strategy of extending the international troops deployment will likely top the agenda at a key NATO meeting in February.
3 min read
01 February, 2021
The Trump administration had set a May deadline for withdrawing all foreign troops [Getty]
International troops will remain in Afghanistan beyond the May deadline set down in a landmark deal, struck last year between the US and the Taliban, Reuters has reported.

Four anonymous senior NATO officials spoke to the news agency with one saying that "conditions" for the withdrawal were unmet.

This likely refers to the fulfillment of security guarantees by the Taliban to secure the withdrawal of all foreign troops by May, under an agreement brokered by the administration of then-President Donald Trump early last year.

The official added that the new US administration of Joe Biden would "tweak" the policy of its predecessor, addressing the sense of a "hasty withdrawal" and possibly replacing it with a "more calculated" departure.

The expected change in tack by Biden's administration has prompted fears among the Taliban ranks for some time, sources from the movement told Reuters.

"We conveyed our apprehensions, but they assured us of honouring and acting on the… accord. What's going on, on the ground in Afghanistan, is showing something else," said a Taliban leader.

A Pentagon spokesman said that while the Taliban had not met their commitment, Washington was committed to the peace deal and had not decided on future troop levels.

The strategy in Afghanistan beyond April will likely top the agenda at a key NATO meeting in February, according to senior officials from the organisation.

The alliance's leanings will acquire greater salience after years of marginalisation by Trump, diplomats and analysts say.

NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu reaffirmed that the pact's presence in Afghanistan was still "conditions-based" but played down the suggestion that a decision had been reached.

Lungescu said that allies continued to monitor the situation and consult on the way forward, adding that some 10,000 troops, including Americans, were in Afghanistan.

Trump had reduced US troops to 2500 by this month, the fewest since 2001, in keeping with his vow to "end America's longest war".

Despite peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban which began in September and continues to be stalled, violence continues to plague most of the country.

Read more: Iran's Zarif hosts Taliban leader for Afghan talks, saying US is 'not a good mediator'

Kabul and foreign governments say the Taliban has failed to meet conditions due to the escalated violence and a failure to renounce ties with militant groups such as Al-Qaeda, which the Taliban denies.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told Reuters that the insurgent were committed to the peace process.

"No doubt that if the Doha deal is not implemented there will be consequences, and the blame will be upon that side which does not honour the deal," he said. "Our expectations are also that NATO will think to end this war and avoid more excuses for prolonging the war in Afghanistan," he added.

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