- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 28, 2021

The Taliban isn’t keeping the promises they made in the peace agreement with the United States that would eventually result in all American troops being pulled from Afghanistan by May, the Pentagon said Thursday.

Chief Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters the Biden administration remains committed to the deal that had been brokered last year between the radical Islamist Taliban movement and the Trump administration. After a major U.S. drawdown last year, about 2,500 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan for what Pentagon officials say is largely a counter-terrorism mission. 

“Right now, we think we have enough to do what we need to do,” Mr. Kirby told reporters.

But, he maintained, Taliban leaders haven’t followed through on pledges to reduce violence and renounce their ties to al Qaeda, he said, even as peace talks with the U.S.-backed Kabul government proceed.

“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,” Mr. Kirby said. 

New Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has told Congress that the U.S. needs to find a reasonable and rational way forward to end the war, Mr. Kirby said. American combat forces have been in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years now.

But “it has got to be done through a negotiated settlement that includes the Afghan government,” Mr. Kirby said. “They make it that much more difficult for a final decision to be made by their reticence.”

He said Secretary Austin has spoken with NATO allies and partners about Afghanistan and is reviewing the agreement and the situation on the ground. 

“We’re still committed to ending this war,” Mr. Kirby said.

Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Center on Military and Political Power, said the new administration was right to review a deal the Trump administration had left unfinished.

“Trump’s timeline-based withdrawals from conflict zones like Afghanistan should be among the leading candidates for the Biden administration’s trash can. In Afghanistan, U.S. forces work with partners to prevent terrorists there from launching another 9/11-style attack,” Mr. Bowman said. “And yet on November 17, ignoring these continued interests and threats, the Trump administration announced that it would hastily slash the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan by January - a mere five days before the inauguration of our new president.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in November told the BBC that an uncoordinated withdrawal of U.S. and international troops risks Afghanistan once again becoming a haven for international terrorists.

“We went into Afghanistan together and we need to leave together when the time is right,” he said.

Mr. Kirby said there is no change to the U.S. commitments made in the peace deal. But he wouldn’t say whether the U.S. will cut troop levels to zero in Afghanistan by the May deadline.

“The Taliban has been, to put it politely, reticent to meet their requirements,” he said. “Any decision on force levels in Afghanistan is going to be driven by our security commitments there. They will be ‘conditions-based.’”

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