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Congressmen Question Taliban Commitment to February Agreement


FILE - House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., left, and Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the ranking member, confer during a hearing Oct. 23, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

The top members of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee say an increase in violence in Afghanistan has raised questions about the Taliban’s commitment to an agreement they signed with the United States in February.

Representatives Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York, chairman of the committee, and Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas, said the “dramatic increase” in violence in Afghanistan is an “unacceptable violation” of the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement signed February 29.

“The Taliban’s continued attacks on Afghan forces make us question whether the Taliban will uphold its commitments, jeopardize progress towards peace and prevent negotiations from moving forward,” Engel and McCaul said in a joint statement Friday.

The violence has coincided with the rapid spread of the coronavirus, and Engel and McCaul said that it has prevented Afghans from focusing on the health crisis.

Engel and McCaul called on all parties to stop attacks immediately, agree to a cease-fire and support the road to peace.

Their comments followed U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper's statement Tuesday that the Taliban were not living up to their commitments, adding that he also believed the Afghan government was not living up to its commitment.

Release of Taliban fighters

The Afghan government was not part of the February agreement between the United States and the Taliban, but the deal called for Kabul to release 5,000 Taliban fighters as a confidence-building measure ahead of intra-Afghan talks.

The deal paved the way for the withdrawal of all international troops from Afghanistan within 14 months. In addition to an exchange of prisoners, it is intended to lead to peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban aimed at ending the 18-year conflict.

But attacks by Taliban militants have increased since the deal was signed.

The latest attack by Taliban militants killed a provincial police chief and two others in a roadside bomb attack in Khost province in Afghanistan’s southeast, officials said Friday.

Khost police chief Sayed Ahmad Babazai was leading an operation against the militants in the province when he was hit by the bomb Thursday, Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said.

Babazai’s secretary and one of his bodyguards were also killed, local officials confirmed. Another policeman was severely wounded in the incident.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

It came as the U.S. peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said Thursday that he had talked to Taliban leaders in Qatar about a reduction in violence and a range of other issues related to the February agreement.

Reuters and dpa contributed to this report.

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