AT Mentoring Desk

KABUL: The Taliban has warned that there will be a “reaction” if the United States keeps troops in Afghanistan beyond May 1.

Suhail Shaheen, a member of the Taliban negotiation team, told reporters in Moscow late last week that if American troops were to stay beyond the deadline, “it will be a kind of violation of the agreement.”

“That violation would not be from our side. … Their violation will have a reaction,” he added.

The warning came a day after meeting with senior Afghan government negotiators and international observers to try to jump-start a stalled peace process to end Afghanistan’s decades of war.

Under former President Donald Trump, the United States and the Taliban reached an agreement last year. As part of the deal, the United States would withdraw 4,400 of its 13,000 troops in the short term, with the remainder exiting by May 1, 2021.

Trump decried what he described as America’s “endless wars” and hailed the deal in achieving his mission of removing troops from one of those conflicts.

The United States has had troops in Afghanistan since late 2001.

A Pentagon official told members of Congress in September 2020 that the military was making plans for a full withdrawal by May 2021, if the conditions of the agreement were met. Those included a reduction in violence from the Taliban.

But the group has been blamed for numerous attacks over the past year, casting the complete drawdown in doubt.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who visited Kabul said on Sunday that the process of reviewing whether the conditions have been met is still ongoing.

“I don’t care to comment on that. And I won’t comment on that. But what I will say is that it’s obvious that the level of violence remains pretty high in the country,” he added. “We’d really like to see that violence come down. And I think if it does come down, it can begin to set the conditions for, you know, some really fruitful diplomatic work.”

Setting a specific end date for the engagement is up to President Joe Biden, Austin said.

Biden said last week that it will be “tough” for the United States to meet the May 1 deadline. But he also said that if the deadline is extended, it wouldn’t be by a “lot longer.”

A statement released by the presidential palace on the meeting between Austin and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said both sides condemned the increase in violence in Afghanistan. There was no mention of the May 1 deadline.