Foreign troop withdrawals raised fears that Afghanistan could turn into a fractured state, erupting into civil war
A senior US general said on Tuesday he had serious doubts about the Taliban’s reliability as a negotiating partner, as the United States prepared to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan in the coming months and to focus on diplomacy.
Last week, President Joe Biden said all American troops would be withdrawn by September 11, to end America’s longest war, rejecting calls for U.S. forces to stay to ensure a peaceful resolution to Afghanistan’s bitter internal conflict.
Under former President Donald Trump, the Taliban negotiated a deal with the United States, in negotiations that did not include the Afghan government, for the withdrawal of American forces in exchange for security guarantees. Some U.S. officials have said the Taliban has failed to live up to their end of the deal.
“I have serious doubts about the reliability of the Taliban… but we have to see what they are going to do here,” the US Navy general said. Frank McKenzie, the head of the central command leading forces in Afghanistan, said during a hearing of the United States House Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill.
“If they want some form of future international recognition for Afghanistan … they’re going to have to stick to the agreements they’ve made,” McKenzie said, adding that the US military would still be able to observe and monitor them. check their actions.
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when they were expelled by US-led forces after the September 1, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, DC. Since then, they have led a long-standing rebellion and still control large swathes of territory.
Foreign troop withdrawals have raised fears that the country could erupt into full-scale civil war, providing space for Al Qaeda in which to rebuild and plan new attacks on the United States and other targets.
A United Nations report released in January said there were as many as 500 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and that the Taliban had close ties with the extremist group. The Taliban have denied the presence of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Announcing his decision to withdraw his troops, Biden said the United States would monitor the threat, revamp counterterrorism capabilities and retain substantial assets in the region to respond to threats emerging from Afghanistan.
McKenzie said he would provide Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin with a plan for counterterrorism forces outside Afghanistan by the end of the month. He warned that the loss of the current US military network in Afghanistan, and the intelligence capacity it enables, would have an effect.
“If you’re out of the country and you don’t have the ecosystem that we have there now, it will be more difficult to do that. It is not impossible. It will just be more difficult to do it, ”he said.
His testimony came as a US-backed conference between the Taliban and the Afghan government scheduled to begin on April 24 was postponed to mid-May, Reuters news agency reported.
An Afghan government spokesperson declined to comment on the matter. A Taliban spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey, one of the talks’ hosts, said the talks were postponed after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, adding that attendance at the conference remained uncertain.
A senior White House official said on Sunday that no one could offer guarantees on Afghanistan’s future after foreign troops left, even as he stressed that the United States would remain focused on threats emanating from the United States. country.
In addition, some 7,000 NATO troops and 6,000 US contractors, including those who support the Afghan army in tasks such as aircraft maintenance, would be withdrawn.
McKenzie said he did not “want to minimize” the potential loss of US intelligence capabilities and support to the Afghan military that removing contractors would entail.
Whether this would degrade the Kabul government’s ability to defend itself against Taliban attacks would depend on if the country is fractured after a US withdrawal, McKenzie said.
“It would depend if the nation as a whole, if the nation is fractured, if there is a civil war,” McKenzie said.