As per its February agreement with the Taliban, the US withdrawal of roughly 3,400 troops by early July is continuing apace, a Department of Defense representative said.
“We're still moving forward with the force reduction levels that we're committed to,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters at a Friday briefing. “That is still going forward, and we expect to meet that within the timeline laid out under the agreement with the Taliban,” Hoffman said, although noting he had “no update” on what the present number of US troops in Afghanistan is.
The late February agreement between representatives of the Taliban militant group and the United States spelled out a path for Washington to disengage from the Afghanistan war, now in its 19th year. The ceasefire also opened the way for negotiations between the Taliban and the US-supported Afghan government in Kabul, which the group has until now refused to recognize.
However, amid unrelenting, violent clashes between Taliban and Afghan government forces, the US has recently been reconsidering the decision to reduce troop levels in the country from 12,000 to 8,600. Earlier this month, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Anderson told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing that the Pentagon would “reassess all the conditions going forward.”
“I would hope that the deal would not collapse,” he said, noting the Taliban “have shown a commitment to at least part of it so far. And hopefully they will honor the remaining portions. If they don’t, then we’ll reassess, and we’ll do what we need to do.”
However, between the March 1 beginning of the US withdrawal and April 15, there were some 4,500 attacks by the Taliban against government forces, as well as a handful of incidents targeting US forces as well, Sputnik reported.
Amid the collapsing window for intra-Afghan peace negotiations, the US State Department announced Monday that Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad had departed for new talks in Kabul as well as in Doha, Qatar, where the US-Taliban deal was reached.
On Thursday, Khalilzad revealed in a Twitter statement that the US believed Islamic State Khorasan, a Daesh franchise in Afghanistan hostile to the US as well as the Kabul government and the Taliban, was responsible for a deadly attack on a Kabul maternity ward. The May 12 attack killed two newborns as well as 12 mothers and nurses.
Rather than falling into the ISIS trap and delay peace or create obstacles, Afghans must come together to crush this menace and pursue a historic peace opportunity. No more excuses. Afghans, and the world, deserve better.— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) May 14, 2020
"[Daesh] has demonstrated a pattern for favoring these types of heinous attacks against civilians and is a threat to the Afghan people and to the world,” Khalilzad wrote. "[Daesh] also opposes a peace agreement between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban, and seeks to encourage sectarian war as in Iraq and Syria.”