Interior Minister warns against hasty withdrawal of foreign troops

Afghanistan’s Interior Minister Masoud Andarabi warned on Saturday against a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan of foreign troops, saying that the Taliban’s ties to al-Qaeda remain intact and that a swift pullout would worsen global counterterrorism efforts.

In an interview with The Associated Press Andarabi said that Afghan National Security Forces backed by U.S. assistance have so far put a squeeze on terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, including Daesh.

Andarabi’s warning comes just seven weeks before the May 1 foreign troops withdrawal deadline as per the US-Taliban agreement signed in February last year.

No decision has yet been made by Washington, which is reviewing the deal signed by the former Trump administration,

According to AP, Andarabi challenged U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s prediction last weekend that the withdrawal of U.S. troops would yield territorial gains to the Taliban, saying that Afghan troops could hold territory, but still needed aid and air support to maintain remote checkpoints.

“The Afghan security forces are fully capable of defending the capital and the cities and the territories that we are present in right now,” he said.

“We think that the Afghan security forces this year have proven to the Taliban that they will not be able to gain territory.”

Since the U.S. signed the deal with the Taliban violence and targeted killings, often unclaimed, have spiked.

AP reported that Andarabi sympathized with Kabul residents’ complaints about rampant crime, but said nearly 70 percent of Afghanistan’s police force is battling the Taliban, eroding efforts to maintain law and order. Every day the police confront over 100 Taliban attacks throughout the country, he added.

Andarabi said some progress had been made to stem the violence in the past month, with over 400 arrests.

But he underlined that Afghanistan still very much needs continued support from the international community, including the United States and NATO, in both war and peacetime, AP reported.

He said it will take great effort to reintegrate into a peacetime society the tens of thousands of armed men roving the country — regardless of which faction they are from, he said.

He also pointed out that police face a daunting anti-narcotics battle in a country that produces more than 4,000 tons of opium – the raw material used to make heroin – more than every other opium-producing country combined.

Peace, said Andarabi, would free the police to fight the drug war that is also fueling Afghanistan’s soaring crime rate.