Ghani suggests US troops might not be withdrawn by May as planned

President Ashraf Ghani implied on Friday that he expects the Biden administration to keep US troops in Afghanistan for longer than anticipated under the US-Taliban deal, signed by the Trump administration, saying the Taliban aren’t meeting their obligations to reduce violence.

This comes after a dramatic surge in violence since the signing of the deal in Doha in February last year.

On Thursday Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the Taliban’s refusal to reduce the violence is raising questions over whether the 2,500 US troops remaining will leave by May as planned.

In an interview on Friday with the Aspen Institute, Ghani said such statements send “a signal to the Taliban that the US is here to secure peace and not to retreat and leave the field open.”

Ghani said during the virtual event that the new Biden administration’s review of the peace deal should take weeks, not months, which is a sign of a “very predictable” new phase in the US-Afghanistan relationship.

Ghani said he hopes to speak soon with President Joe Biden and that the US is planning to send a team to Kabul to discuss how to “energize the peace talks.”

He also said Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy who brokered the agreement with the Taliban will now be reporting to a “very organized decision-making process,” this being in reference to the new Biden administration.

He also stated that “NATO will play a bridging role” as the US draws down, but “NATO without US enablers cannot continue its mission.”

On the high level of violence in the country, he said Afghanistan must hold the Taliban responsible for the surge in killings.

“If the Taliban realize they can prevail through violence they will not let go,” he said adding “we must hold the Taliban responsible for this environment of violence…This is not the way to get attention. It is the way to get condemnation for truly inhuman violence.”On the issue of a possible interim government, Ghani was adamant that this was not a good idea.

He pointed out that Afghanistan has had interim governments in the past that have been unsuccessful.

“We’ve had interim governments. They have led to bloodshed,” he said adding that such a move would be detrimental to Afghanistan.

“The citizens of Afghanistan must be empowered…Where would I get the authority to dissolve the Republic? I have sworn to uphold the constitution,” he said.

Ghani also pointed out that the ethos of peace talks has not been passed down to the Taliban’s fighters on the ground.

“Peace has not been socialized to the Taliban commanders or rank and file,” he said implying that just recently the group’s leaders were seen visiting wounded fighters in a hospital in Pakistan and giving them words of encouragement.

Encouraged by the Biden administration’s approach to Afghanistan, Ghani said Washington is working with the government, and “the focus is on ending 40 years of violence.”

“The process has begun and we couldn’t be more pleased with the early focus, systematic attention, and a dialogue between two partners,” he said.