International troops plan to stay in Afghanistan beyond the May deadline envisaged by the Taliban’s deal with the United States, said four senior officials of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). This move could escalate tensions with the Taliban, who demand full withdrawal.
“There will be no full withdrawal by allies by April-end,” one of the officials told Reuters.
“Conditions have not been met,” he said, on condition of anonymity. “And with the new US administration, there will be tweaks in the policy, the sense of hasty withdrawal which was prevalent will be addressed and we could see a much more calculated exit strategy.” Plans on what will happen after April are now being considered and likely to be a top issue at a key Nato meeting in February, the Nato sources said.
The Nato’s positions are becoming increasingly important after the alliance was sidelined by Trump, diplomats and experts say.
“No Nato ally wants to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary, but we have been clear that our presence remains conditions-based,” said Nato spokeswoman Oana Lungescu. She said about 10,000 troops, including Americans, are in Afghanistan. Those levels are expected to stay roughly the same until after May, but the plan beyond that is not clear, the Nato source said.
A member of the Afghan government’s peace negotiating team Sunday warned the Taliban that if they don’t resume peace talks in Qatar soon, the government could recall the team before a deal is reached.
A Taliban delegation this week visited Iran and Russia, and the leader said they were contacting China. After a round of talks in Moscow, the Taliban said they expect the United States to fulfill its pledge to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by May.
Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanikzai, who led the Taliban delegation that met with senior Russian diplomats during two days of talks, insisted that the movement has honoured its end of the deal signed last year in Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office. White House and US State Department officials have said that Biden’s administration plans to take a new look at the peace agreement signed last February with Donald Trump’s White House.—Reuters/ AP