Afghanistan: Military Withdrawal Without Taliban Commitment Would Be 'Rash'

In February of this year, US President Donald Trump's administration signed a deal with the Taliban.

Five thousand Taliban prisoners would be released, sanctions would be lifted and the United States would cut troop numbers in Afghanistan to 8,600 by July.

Within 14 months, according to the deal, the US would be gone.

In return, the Taliban agreed to release 1,000 Afghan troops they hold prisoner and stop al-Qaeda operating in areas it controls

However, the deal soon broke down.

The Afghan government refused the prisoner swap, the Taliban walked away and violence resumed.

At the end of May, the Taliban announced a surprise three-day ceasefire to mark the festival of Eid.

In response, the Afghan government announced it would release 2,000 Taliban prisoners as a gesture of goodwill.

Afghanistan's president, Ashraf Ghani, and his rival Abdullah Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal, ending months of political uncertainty.

While over the past few weeks there have still been attacks, violence has overall fallen.

Former Ambassador, Sir Nicholas Kay, who was NATO’s Senior Civilian Representative to Afghanistan, has warned that withdrawing international troops without a total Taliban commitment to peace would be "rash".

"It would be very rash for us to have a comprehensive military withdrawal from Afghanistan before there is a comprehensive political peace agreement," he told Forces News.

"At this stage, the only commitment on the NATO side is for this first stage of withdrawal down to 12,000 and then there would be a stocktake."

Sir Nicholas Kay remarked it is important to keep in mind the deal is conditions-based.

"If the Taliban do not live up to their commitments, then there will not be a deal," he said.

"Those commitments have to be demonstrated."

One of the commitments the Taliban are expected to fulfil is the reduction of violence.

"Yes, the Taliban stopped attacking coalition forces.

Yes, they stopped attacking high-profile targets in cities [...] but they were killing Afghan security forces, Afghan civilians in rural areas [and] districts across the country at a very high rate."

The United States, however, seems to be ahead of schedule with their troop withdrawal plan.

"We are doing our part.

"We have been working very hard with the government of Afghanistan as well on releasing prisoners, which was a confidence-building measure as part of the package."

The next step of the process, the former ambassador explained, should be the beginning of actual negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government and the wider Afghan society.

Cover image: A library picture of troops in Afganistan in 2018.