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US: All Options on Table for Decision on Afghan Military Mission


FILE - U.S. soldiers load onto a Chinook helicopter to head out on a mission in Afghanistan, Jan. 15, 2019.

The United States says no decision has been made about its military commitment to Afghanistan after May 1, a deadline for the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops to withdraw from the country in line with a year-old peace pact with the Taliban insurgency.

The comments came in response to reports that Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, warned that Ghani’s government may have to deal with a Taliban onslaught on its own if the Afghan leader fails to urgently consider proposals on accelerating U.S.-initiated peace efforts. Proposals reportedly include an international conference under the auspicious of the United Nations to push forward the Afghan peace process.

When contacted by VOA, a State Department spokesperson said, “As a general matter, we do not comment on alleged correspondence with foreign leaders.”

The spokesperson also said, “We have not made any decisions about our force posture in Afghanistan after May 1. All options remain on the table.”

The Pentagon on Monday confirmed its review of the U.S.-Taliban deal is still pending and that until it is complete, a decision on the future of U.S. forces in Afghanistan will have to wait.

“No decisions about force posture have been made one way or the other yet,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters.

“Everybody here is mindful of looming deadlines,” he said, adding, “We've long said that this has got to be solved politically, not militarily.”

Senior Afghan officials and opposition politicians confirmed that Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the country’s peace council, had received the letter. They said the U.S. peace envoy to the country, Zalmay Khalilzad, discussed and explained the proposed peace plan outlined in the correspondence

Khalilzad reportedly also shared proposals for installing an interim government in Kabul to oversee the peace process.

“The letter was handed over to President Ghani and myself two days before the visit of Khalilzad,” Abdullah said Monday in a nationally televised speech to a ceremony in the Afghan capital.

Speaking to the same event, Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh brushed aside Blinken’s letter, saying his government was not worried about the contents of the document nor would he ever agree to such a peace plan.

“America and NATO have the right to arrange conferences and talk to the Taliban about their troops in Afghanistan, but it is our right too not to make a deal based on others’ timetable and compromise on the destiny of 35 million Afghans,” Saleh said.

FILE - British soldiers with the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission arrive at the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 6, 2020.
FILE - British soldiers with the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission arrive at the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 6, 2020.

During his meetings with Afghan government officials, politicians and civil society leaders in Kabul, Khalilzad also discussed the formation of an interim government for overseeing the peace process.

Ghani strongly opposed the idea while addressing the Afghan parliament on Saturday, saying any transfer of power must come through elections and he was ready to discuss hold fresh elections under the country’s constitution.

Blinken wrote to Ghani that the U.S. would ask the U.N. to “convene foreign ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India, and the United States to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan.”

He also said Washington would ask Turkey to host a high-level meeting of Afghan stakeholders and the Taliban in the coming weeks to “finalize a peace agreement,” and urged Ghani to send his representatives.

The U.S. is pursuing high-level diplomatic efforts “to move matters more fundamentally and quickly toward a settlement and a permanent and comprehensive cease-fired” in Afghanistan, the letter said.

Blinken concluded his letter by warning that in the event of a U.S. troop drawdown he was concerned “the security situation will worsen and that the Taliban could make rapid territorial gains.”

At the United Nations, the secretary-general's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said no official request from the U.S. to convene a meeting with foreign ministers has been received.

“We continue to support any effort to reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and we stand ready to assist, if so requested by the parties,” Dujarric told reporters.

He called on those involved “to ensure that whatever deal is worked out through whichever mechanism, it is not done on the backs of the rights of the Afghan women, who have suffered so much during this conflict.”

FILE - Members of the Taliban delegation attend the opening session of the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in the Qatari capital Doha, Sept. 12, 2020.
FILE - Members of the Taliban delegation attend the opening session of the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in the Qatari capital Doha, Sept. 12, 2020.

Peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgents in Qatari capital, Doha, have largely stalled as U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration reviews how to handle the process, including troop withdrawal.

After his meetings in Kabul, Khalilzad traveled to Doha where he shared with Taliban leaders his proposal for an interim Afghan government, a spokesman for the insurgent group told VOA. Mohammad Naeem said the Taliban was studying the proposal and will issue a formal response later.

The U.S. has renewed diplomatic efforts for arranging a peace deal amid concerns the Afghan government and the Taliban are preparing to intensify fighting in the coming spring fighting season.

The U.S.-Taliban deal signed in February 2020 requires all American and roughly 10,000 NATO troops to withdraw from Afghanistan. In return, the Taliban has pledged to cut ties with terrorist groups and find a negotiated settlement the country’s long conflict with Afghan rivals. The insurgents, however, are under fire for allegedly not abandoning terror links or not reducing violence.

VOA’s Cindy Saine, Jeff Seldin and Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.