US says progress hard to see without Taliban commitments

Biden administration says unless Taliban meets its commitments under 2020 deal, hard to see a way forward.

Khalilzad and taliban signing
The Taliban and the US signed an agreement in February, 2020 the US hoped would lead to a negotiated ceasefire [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

US President Joe Biden’s administration believes it is hard to see a way forward for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban in Afghanistan without the group meeting its commitments under a deal last year, but Washington remained committed to that effort, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

“Without them meeting their commitments to renounce terrorism and to stop the violent attacks on the Afghan National Security Forces … it’s very hard to see a specific way forward for the negotiated settlement, but we’re still committed to that,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Thursday.

He added that no decision had been made about the future of troop levels in Afghanistan.

The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday, highlighting “robust diplomatic support for the peace process ” to come to a political settlement and military ceasefire to benefit all Afghans, according to US State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

Blinken told the Ghani the United States is reviewing the agreement signed in February, 2020 between the US and the Taliban, to evaluate whether the Taliban are fulfilling commitments to “cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence in Afghanistan, and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and other stakeholders” Price said.

The secretary called it an “historic opportunity for peace” but said progress during the past 20 years on “human rights, civil liberties and the role of women” should be preserved.

The Taliban signed the agreement with the US in Doha last February, with talks with the Afghan government to begin soon after, but the Taliban refused to meet with government officials for months, and has not halted violent attacks.

Blinken said the US envoy who negotiated that deal, Zalmay Khalilzad, will remain on in his role.

The US has already withdrawn thousands of troops from Afghanistan under the agreement with all troops scheduled to be out of the country by May. In the deal, the Taliban promised to break ties with al-Qaeda and not allow any fighter groups to use its soil to attack the US.

A memorandum from the US Treasury Department to the Department of Defense said, “as of 2020, al-Qaeda is gaining strength in Afghanistan while continuing to operate with the Taliban under the Taliban’s protection.”

It also said, “Al-Qaeda maintains close contacts with the Taliban, providing advice, guidance, and financial support.”

Donald Trump ordered US troop numbers in Afghanistan down to 2,500 by January 15, just before he left office.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies