Taliban warns NATO to push ahead with troop pullout in Afghanistan

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The Taliban on Saturday warned NATO against seeking a “continuation of war,” as the alliance weighs a planned withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Defense ministers from the Washington-backed allies are to meet next week to discuss whether NATO’s 10,000-strong mission – mostly carrying out support roles – should stay or go, as Taliban violence rages.

“Our message to the upcoming NATO ministerial meeting is that the continuation of occupation and war is neither in your interest nor in the interest of your and our people,” the Taliban said in a statement.

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“Anyone seeking extension of wars and occupation will be held liable for it just like the previous two decades.”

Former US president Donald Trump struck a deal with the Taliban last year under which the United States agreed foreign troops would leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in return for conditions including cutting ties with al-Qaeda and opening peace talks with the Kabul government.

President Joe Biden’s administration has said it would review the deal, with the Pentagon accusing the Afghan insurgent group of not meeting its commitment to reduce violence.

The Taliban in turn have accused the US of breaching the agreement and insisted they will continue their “fight and jihad” if foreign troops do not leave by May.

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Foreign troops with NATO-led Resolute Support Mission investigate at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan September 5, 2019. (Reuters/Omar Sobhani)
Foreign troops with NATO-led Resolute Support Mission investigate at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan September 5, 2019. (Reuters/Omar Sobhani)

In his final days in office, Trump unilaterally reduced US forces in Afghanistan to just 2,500 – the lowest since the start of the war in 2001.

Germany, meanwhile, said Saturday that it wants to extend its military presence in Afghanistan, where it has the second largest contingent after the United States.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told the Funke media group that peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban “will not be concluded before the end of March,” when Germany’s annual mandate is due to expire, meaning Germany would have to prepare for “different scenarios.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly insisted that members of the alliance must decide “together” on the future of their mission. He has said he hopes Biden will coordinate more closely with allies.

“If we decide to leave, we risk to jeopardize the peace process, we risk to lose the gains we have made in the fight against international terrorism over the last years,” the NATO chief said earlier this month.

“If we decide to stay we risk to continue to be in a difficult military operation in Afghanistan and we risk increased violence also against NATO troops.”

The Taliban on Saturday said the group was “seriously committed” to the US deal, claiming it had “significantly decreased the level of operations.”

Insurgents have launched a string of offensives threatening at least two strategic provincial capitals in southern Afghanistan in recent months.

The US and the Afghan government have blamed them for a wave of deadly attacks on journalists, politicians, judges and activists.

The warring sides launched peace talks in September, but progress has been slow and overshadowed by the violence.

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