Foreign Troops To Stay In Afghanistan Beyond May Deadline

In February 2020, former President Trump signed an agreement with Taliban leaders in Afghanistan. The agreement, commonly referred to as the Doha accord, stipulates that all American troops be removed from Afghanistan by this May if the Taliban cuts ties with al-Qaeda, engages in peace talks with the Afghan government, and ends its violence against U.S. troops.

Just last week, though, the Afghan government, among other foreign governments and agencies, says the Taliban has failed to meet the agreement’s conditions. In fact, foreign leaders posit that the Taliban has failed to sever its ties with al-Qaeda. The Taliban denies such accusations, but the United Nations Security Council recently stated that several leaders of al-Qaeda continue to be “given shelter and protection by the Taliban.”

Senior NATO officials said that postponing the withdrawal of American troops could escalate tensions between the Afghan government and the Taliban since the Taliban continues to demand a full withdrawal by May. Nonetheless, Oana Lungescu, the spokeswoman for NATO, recently declared NATO’s support for maintaining a foreign military presence in Afghanistan. “No NATO ally wants to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary, but we have been clear that our presence remains conditions-based,” said Lungescu. The spokeswoman added that “NATO fully supports the Afghanistan peace process in order to ensure that Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for terrorists that would attack our homelands.”

Like NATO, Afghan officials stated that it is critical for U.S. troops to remain so that Taliban and Afghan leaders can reach peace agreements. According to the Washington Post, Afghan officials announced that the maintenance of a small U.S. counter-terrorism force in Afghanistan would provide the country’s government with more leverage during peace talks than the country would have without military aid. These negotiations could bring a decades-long, violent war to a peaceful end.

Because of the international support for keeping troops stationed in Afghanistan, the Taliban has become concerned that Washington might change elements of the February 2020 agreement, two Taliban sources told Reuters. Regardless, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid recently declared that the Taliban remained committed to the peace process. Mujahid stated that if the deal was not fulfilled, meaning the withdrawal of troops, “there will be consequences, and the blame will be upon that side which does not honour the deal.” Further, if the accord does not proceed as originally planned, the Taliban may escalate violence, and possibly attack international forces, said Ashley Jackson, a research associate and co-director of the Centre for the Study of Armed Groups at the Overseas Development Institute.

There is hope, though, that a February meeting between NATO defence ministers will clarify the steps international powers may take in preventing future violence. While the ministers should consider their own country’s safety, it is also imperative that they hold the Taliban accountable for the violence it incites against Afghan citizens and military personnel. As for the Doha accord, the U.S. must revise the February 2020 deal to explicitly forbid violence. U.S. military personnel must be kept in Afghanistan until the militant group upholds its part of the deal by cutting ties with al-Qaeda.

The Biden administration recently launched a review of the Doha accord. While evaluating the agreement, the administration must consider how the plans may affect the safety of civilians in Afghanistan and abroad. The U.S. cannot allow Afghanistan to become a hotspot once again for international terrorists to organize attacks. The U.S. must prevent the Taliban or other militant groups to terrorize the people and the democratic government of Afghanistan.