US, Pakistan military officials meet over troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

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Senior US and Pakistani military officials spoke in Islamabad on Friday about the possibility of postponing the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, a move currently under review by US President Joe Biden’s administration.

The meeting comes with the US expected to announce in the coming days whether it will stick with a plan to withdraw its military from the country at the beginning of May, as agreed under a US-Taliban accord reached in February 2020 in Doha.

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General Kenneth McKenzie, head of the US Army Central Command (CENTCOM), thanked Pakistan for its “contributions to the Afghan peace negotiations” and pledged to explore “new areas for collaboration.”

Pakistan’s military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa meanwhile reaffirmed his country’s commitment to peace efforts, noting that peace in Afghanistan was important for peace in Pakistan, according to a statement.

McKenzie has indicated that conditions have not been met for a withdrawal, which he says could create a jihadist group resurgence in the country, risking a collapse of the Afghan government.

While the Taliban had pledged to reduce violence under their deal with the US, they have not done so, McKenzie said on the plane to Pakistan.

The Taliban denies being behind escalated violence, saying those responsible are other jihadist groups.

“Certainly ISIS has launched some attacks. It pales against what the Taliban is doing,” McKenzie said, denouncing violence against Afghan forces, and “targeted assassinations in some of the urban areas.”

“This is clearly the Taliban,” he said. “There is no way it’s anyone else. That’s very clear.”

Pakistan, which has encouraged Taliban negotiations with the Afghan government, would welcome a postponement of the departure of foreign forces in Afghanistan, Pakistani military sources said.

But the postponement should be negotiated with the Taliban in order to avoid a relaunch of conflict, said the officials, who requested anonymity.

They were quick to point out that US forces have now gone a year without losing a single soldier in combat in Afghanistan for the first time in 20 years.

The US military has not taken a public stand on the withdrawal issue, as the decision ultimately lies with the White House.

But privately, US military officials have expressed concern that jihadist groups will regain control of Afghanistan as soon as the US leaves.

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