WASHINGTON - The United States should extend the May 1 deadline for pulling all its troops from Afghanistan and make force cuts contingent on progress in peace talks and by the Taliban in reducing violence and containing al-Qaida, a bipartisan report to Congress said Wednesday.
Washington should not abandon the Afghan peace process, the report said. But conditions for its success will not be met by a May 1 deadline set in a 2020 U.S.-Taliban agreement. Withdrawing all U.S. troops then could lead to civil war, destabilizing the region and reviving the al-Qaida threat, it said.
The United States "should not ... simply hand a victory to the Taliban," said the Afghanistan Study Group report, reflecting criticism that the Trump administration conceded too much to the insurgents in a bid to end America’s longest war.
Congress commissioned the group, whose co-chairs included retired Marine General Joseph Dunford, a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, and former Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte.
Dunford told reporters the report was shared with aides to President Joe Biden, including Zalmay Khalilzad, the peace negotiator kept on from the Trump administration, who "found it helpful."
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the Biden administration "plans to support" the peace process, and he noted that it was assessing the Taliban's commitment to cutting ties to al-Qaida, lowering violence and engaging in peace talks.
Former President Donald Trump ordered a drawdown to 2,500 U.S. soldiers by last month, even as violence surged, U.S. officials accused the Taliban of maintaining ties with al-Qaida, and intra-Afghan peace talks stalled. The Taliban say al-Qaida fighters are no longer in Afghanistan and have also indicated that they will resume attacks on foreign forces if they remain past May 1.
U.S. policy should be revised to help ensure that the peace talks in Doha between the Taliban and a delegation that includes Afghan government officials produce a durable settlement to decades of war, the report said.
"Achieving the overall objective of a negotiated stable peace that meets U.S. interests would need to begin with securing an extension of the May deadline," said the report, urging an "immediate" U.S. diplomatic push to rally regional support for a delay.
An extension would let the Biden administration revise policy, and it would also give Washington time to restructure U.S. civilian aid and offer Kabul incentives "to play a constructive role" in the peace efforts and advancing women's and minority rights.
The February 2020 U.S.-Taliban deal made the U.S. withdrawal contingent on ground conditions and on the Taliban's ending the hosting of al-Qaida fighters and halting the group’s "recruiting, training and fundraising."