Taliban Kills 21 Afghan Troops, Warns of ‘Dangerous Escalation’ if US Breaches Deal

Taliban insurgents have killed at least 21 government troops in new attacks in Afghanistan as U.S.-brokered peace talks between the two warring sides remain stalled.

The fighting comes as the United States is reviewing a February 2020 agreement with the Taliban, which required remaining American and allied forces to leave Afghanistan by May of this year.

An Afghan security officer said Friday that a major pre-dawn Taliban raid targeted in an outpost in Khan Abad district in northeastern Kunduz province. The officer, who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity, said the attack killed 16 security force members, including their commander, and assailants also took two others hostage.

Separately, insurgents stormed an Afghan army outpost in northern Faryab province Thursday night, killing five soldiers. The provincial governor told local TOLO television channel the Taliban also took “some soldiers” hostage.

The insurgent group has not immediately commented on either of the attacks, which come amid increased hostilities in Afghanistan.

Dangerous escalation

Meanwhile, the Taliban warned U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration against abandoning the February 29 deal between the two adversaries, saying leaving the agreement “will lead to a dangerous escalation” in the Afghan war.

The insurgent warning came two days after a bipartisan U.S. congressional panel recommended that Biden should extend the May 1 deadline set in the agreement with the Taliban for pulling out all American forces from the South Asian nation.

The Afghanistan Study Group called in its report released Wednesday for strictly linking further U.S. troop drawdowns to a reduction in insurgent violence and progress in the ongoing intra-Afghan peace talks.

The study warned that removing all American and NATO forces by the May deadline could lead to a civil war in the country, destabilize the region and revive the al-Qaida terror threat.

In a commentary published on its official website Friday in response to the U.S. report, the Islamist insurgent group rejected charges that it had failed on its commitments outlined in the deal.

“If the Doha agreement is abrogated, it will lead to a major war, the responsibility of which shall fall squarely on the shoulders of America,” it warned.

The Taliban advised the new U.S. administration not to treat the deal in an “emotional manner” and instead “end further investments in the continuation of [Afghan] war, warlords and corrupt individuals.”

“Therefore, all must desist from provocative actions and rhetoric that could lead us all back to former war footing posture because such is neither in the interest of America nor in the interest of the Afghan people,” the Taliban commentary concluded.

The U.S.-Taliban deal has reduced the number of American forces in the country to 2,500 from nearly 13,000 a year ago in return for insurgent counterterrorism guarantees and pledges to find a negotiated settlement with Afghan rivals to the country’s long war.

The Biden administration, however, has decided to review the pact made under the Trump administration to determine whether the Taliban has and is also living up to its commitments.

Trump’s peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, negotiated and signed the deal with the Taliban in Doha, the capital of Qatar. The Biden administration has asked Khalilzad, the Afghan-born veteran U.S. diplomat, to retain his position.

The landmark agreement opened first direct peace negotiations between the insurgent group and representatives of the Afghan government in Doha last September. However, the so-called intra-Afghan peace talks have been stalled since early last month, with both sides blaming the other for the suspension.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Khalilzad on Thursday to discuss the Afghan peace initiative.

“Great meeting with @US4AfghanPeace Ambassador Khalilzad to discuss the way forward in Afghanistan: continuing to protect the U.S. against the threat of terrorism, achieving a just and durable political settlement there, and cementing a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire,” Blinken tweeted after the meeting.