06:34 GMT22 January 2021
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    US Acting Secretary of Defence Chris Miller paid a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Tuesday, meeting with President Ashraf Ghani and discussing military aid and security issues. The US and the Taliban signed a peace deal in Doha in February, with the US committing to pulling NATO troops out of the country in exchange for intra-Afghan peace talks.

    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has reiterated Tehran’s long-standing demand that foreign troops be withdrawn from Afghanistan, and accused Washington of using the US-Taliban deal for electioneering purposes.

    “We want a lawful and responsible withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan that should be based on the demands of the Afghan people and it should be a responsible security transition to the Afghan forces. We do not want it in the current form, where the Americans go and negotiate with the Taliban,” Zarif said, speaking to TOLOnews, an Afghani news channel.

    Accusing US President Donald Trump of “sacrificing” Afghanistan “for the sake of his election campaign,” Zarif said Iran sees “the great harm he inflicted on Afghanistan in the future.”

    Asked whether the US-Taliban relationship is harmful to Iran itself, Zarif said that “what is harmful for Iran and Afghanistan is that the US signs an agreement with the Taliban and wants to impose it on the Afghan people.”

    Iran’s position, he said, is for the US to facilitate intra-Afghan talks, “and avoid contacting a group other than Afghanistan to make a deal. And get things to a phase where the group does not accept any other basis than their own agreement with the US.”

    Zarif also said that despite seeing the Taliban as “a reality” in Afghanistan’s future, Tehran continues to classify the group as a terrorist entity over the “many terrorist acts” it has committed.

    In this Wednesday, April 8, 2020, file photo, an Afghan National Army soldier stands guard at a checkpoint near the Bagram base north of Kabul, Afghanistan.
    © AP Photo / Rahmat Gul
    In this Wednesday, April 8, 2020, file photo, an Afghan National Army soldier stands guard at a checkpoint near the Bagram base north of Kabul, Afghanistan.

    The Iranian foreign minister also criticized the US for its nearly two decade-long security presence in Afghanistan, saying US troops “hurt the feelings of some groups in Afghanistan that were then exploited by Daesh*, al-Qaeda*, and the Taliban* movement.”

    Zarif met with Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib in Tehran on Tuesday, where he reiterated the need for US troops to leave the country and said that Tehran sees “a comprehensive political solution with the presence of all Afghan groups” as “the best guarantee for lasting peace in this country.”

    Mohib, in turn, expressed gratitude to Iran for its support of the Afghan government and people, and emphasized the need for boosting political, economic and security cooperation. The official also met with Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

    As Zarif met with Mohib, Acting Secretary of Defence Chris Miller was in Kabul where, according to a Pentagon readout, he and President Ghani “discussed the historic opportunity for peace, the continued US support for the Afghanistan National Defence and Security Forces, and the importance of achieving a reduction in violence to advance the peace process.”

    Last month, Miller announced that the Pentagon would be paring back troop numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan to 2,500 apiece by 15 January 2021, with roughly 2,000 troops to be pulled out in that time. The rest of the troops are expected to be withdrawn by May 2021, although it’s not clear whether the incoming Biden administration may try to halt and reverse that process.

    In late November, US media reported that at least 10 US military bases have been closed since the signing of the US-Taliban agreement signed in February 2020.

    The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 following the 9/11 terror attacks in New York and Washington, accusing the Taliban of sheltering al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The war has gone on to become the longest conflict in US history, costing over $2 trillion and claiming the lives of over 3,500 American and coalition troops, 62,000 Afghan security forces personnel, and nearly 40,000 Afghan civilians.


    * Terrorist groups outlawed in Russia and many other countries.

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