Taliban: ‘Consequences’ if US drones enter Afghan airspace

The Taliban has accused the US of violating withdrawal agreement by continuing to fly drones over Afghanistan.

A US drone is seen in Kandahar in 2011 [File: Massoud Hossaini/The Associated Press]

The Taliban has warned of consequences if the United States did not stop flying drones over Afghan airspace.

The statement on Wednesday, released on the Taliban’s Twitter account, said the “US has violated all international rights and laws as well as its commitments made to the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, with the operation of these drones in Afghanistan”.

“We call on all countries, especially United States, to treat Afghanistan in light of international rights, laws and commitments … in order to prevent any negative consequences,” the Taliban said.

US officials did not immediately respond to the request, which could have implications for the fragile relationship between Washington and the Taliban in the wake of Washington’s complete military withdrawal from the country on August 30.

Since the Taliban swept back to power, the US has generally pursued a policy of tentative engagement and cooperation, while not officially recognising the government.

However, US officials, concerned over the resurgence of al-Qaeda and the strengthening of ISIL (ISIS) affiliates in Afghanistan, have repeatedly said the US will maintain “over-the-horizon” capabilities in responding to threats in Afghanistan.

Observers say that strategy would rely on technology-based intelligence monitoring and strikes launched from outside of the country. It remains unclear how the US will navigate the strategy in the face of Taliban opposition, although in the past, the US has argued that such actions are justified under international law when a government is “unable or unwilling” to address a threat from groups operating in its territory.

Both the US and the Taliban consider the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K) an enemy, offering the possibility of some cooperation. However, critics say the Taliban is overplaying its ability to combat the group, which it has promised to eradicate.

ISKP has claimed responsibility for the August 26 attack at the then-US controlled international airport in Kabul and more recently bomb attacks in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

Rights monitors, meanwhile, have warned that “over-the-horizon” strikes could exact an even greater toll on civilians than those conducted based on boots-on-the ground intelligence gathering.

Adding to those concerns was the August 29 US drone strike in Kabul that Washington later admitted killed 10 civilians, and not members of ISKP.

The Taliban is also unlikely to offer any cooperation in US efforts to monitor and target al-Qaeda in the country, the group responsible for the 9/11 attacks that the Taliban had previously harboured. The Taliban has denied al-Qaeda fighters are active in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, top US general and Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said Washington had “adhered to every condition” of the US-Taliban withdrawal agreement.

“While the Taliban did not attack US forces, which was one of the conditions, it failed to fully honour any, any other condition under the Doha Agreement,” he said in a testimony before Congress. “And perhaps most importantly for US national security, the Taliban has never renounced al-Qaeda or broke its affiliation with them.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies