- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Pentagon’s top commander in the Middle East said Tuesday he has “grave doubts” about whether the Taliban will live up to its word after U.S. forces leave Afghanistan this fall, fueling questions about whether the country is headed toward full-blown chaos.

Gen. Kenneth F. “Frank” McKenzie, who leads U.S. Central Command, told lawmakers Tuesday that it remains to be seen whether the Taliban honors its commitments to permanently break ties with terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and to ensure that Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for extremist groups to plot attacks against American interests. 

Like other top military leaders, Gen. McKenzie made clear he’s skeptical at best that the Taliban is or will ever be a reliable negotiating partner.

“I have grave doubts about the Taliban’s reliability,” he said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing. “But we need to see what they’re going to do here.”

“The fact of the matter is, let’s say we leave, if they want any form of future international recognition for Afghanistan, if they want any form of international support, they’re going to have to keep to the agreements that they’ve made,” he said. “We will be able to observe that and see that very clearly and directly whether or not they’re able to do it.” 

Gen. McKenzie’s warning comes just days after President Biden announced that the roughly 3,500 American forces in Afghanistan will withdraw no later than Sept. 11. Another 10,000 NATO troops will follow suit, leaving the Afghan security forces to fend for themselves against the Taliban.

The Taliban last year struck a deal with former President Trump that laid out a timetable for the U.S. withdrawal. In exchange, the group vowed to never again cooperate with al Qaeda, to hold direct talks with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, and to reduce violence across the country, including cutting back its attacks on Afghan security forces.

Few observers believe the Taliban has honored those commitments. The insurgent group has held negotiations with the Afghan government, but so far those talks have not led to a lasting cease-fire or permanent power-sharing arrangement.

The Taliban also has threatened to attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan after May 1, the original deadline for withdrawal laid out by Mr. Trump and a date that Mr. Biden has disregarded.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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