US Envoy Meets With Taliban as Troop Pullout Deadline Approaches

The US special envoy for Afghanistan’s reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad met with senior Taliban leaders including Mullah Baradar, the head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha, to discuss provisions of the US-Taliban peace agreement, including the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, according to the Taliban’s spokesman Mohammad Naeem.

The meeting takes place as the deadline for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan ends on May 1.

This comes as a UN-led conference on Afghanistan is expected to be held in Turkey soon, with representatives from all sides of the conflict attending.

In the meantime, the United States reportedly asked the Taliban to agree to the continued presence of American forces for three or six months in Afghanistan after the May 1 deadline, sources close to the Taliban have said.

According to the sources, the Taliban has so far not made their final decision about the request; however, the group has apparently insisted that first their 7,000 prisoners should be released, and names of Taliban officials should be dropped from the UN blacklist.

Under the US-Taliban peace agreement signed on February 2020, all US forces stationed in Afghanistan must leave the country by May 1. But sources close to the Taliban have said that the Biden administration has asked the Taliban to agree on the presence of the US forces for another three or six months.

On Thursday, US President Joe Biden in his first press conference said it will be hard to meet the May 1 deadline for getting troops out of Afghanistan for “tactical reasons.”

Asked if he envisioned US troops in Afghanistan a year from now, Biden said “I can’t picture that being the case.” He also said: “We will leave–the question is when we leave.”

The Taliban warned that delay in American forces’ presence in the country will be seen as a violation of the Doha agreement and that all future responsibility for the continuation of violence will be on those who violate the deal.

Despite marathon diplomatic efforts and call for a ceasefire, violence continues to affect Afghans on multiple fronts across the country.

Latest incidents of violence:

Mawlawi Abdul Samad Mohammadi, head of the northern Takhar province’s Ulema Council, was killed and three more were wounded in a magnetic IED blast on Wednesday afternoon, said Khalil Aseer, a spokesman for the provincial police chief.

The incident occurred around 1:30 pm local time in Taluqan city, capital of the province, when a magnetic IED exploded against Mohammadi’s car, Aseer said.

In another incident, at least two civilians including a child were killed and 16 others, including three soldiers, were wounded in a blast in Balkh district of Balkh province on Wednesday afternoon, said Adil Shah Adil, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

The blast occurred around 1:00 pm local time in the Bandar-e-Koloft area in the center of the district after a mine which was placed in a cart exploded in the area, said Adil.

In Logar, Colonel Faridoon Fayaz, the commander of 203rd Thunder Corps’ central command, was killed in a Taliban ambush and one of his bodyguards was wounded on Wednesday morning, a military corps official confirmed.

Also in the north, two local army soldiers and a member of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) were killed in separate incidents in Kapsia and Sar-e-Pul provinces, local officials and sources said.

Khawja Atiqullah, an NDS member in Hese Dowom-e-Kohistan district in Kapisa, and his cousin were killed in an attack by unidentified armed men in the district on Tuesday night, the provincial police spokesman Shayiq Shorish said.

Meanwhile, two members of local army, including Habibullah, their commander, were killed and two more were wounded in a bomb blast in Sayad district of Sar-e-Pul province on Wednesday morning, a source said.

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) on Wednesday said that at least 36 Afghan women’s rights activists have been assassinated or wounded since the beginning of January amid the fresh spate of violence.

According to the AIHRC, from the figures, 14 women were killed and 22 more were wounded.