Afghanistan

'Bumpy Road' Toward Afghan Peace As Taliban Resumes Offensive After Deal

The US-brokered peace agreement has hit its first speed bump since leaders signed it on Saturday.

The Taliban says it will resume its offensive against Afghan security forces, days after the group signed a historic peace deal with the United States in Qatar. 

A spokesman says a truce with foreign troops will continue, but Afghan forces would come under attack until Taliban prisoners were released.  

Under Saturday's agreement, the group promised not to allow Al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in the areas they control.

"They will be killing terrorists," said US President Donald Trump on the day of the deal.

"They will keep that fight going.

"We've had tremendous success in Afghanistan and the killing of terrorists. But it's time after all these years to go and to bring our people back home."

However, a timeline for a prisoner swap was also detailed - 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 Afghan security force prisoners to be exchanged by 10 March.

This timeline has been rejected by Afghanistan’s President, Ashraf Ghani.

Hitting the first speedbump on the way to Afghan peace after just a matter of days, the United States has remained committed to cutting its troop levels to 8,600 from almost 13,000 within 135 days of signing.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the withdrawal will continue "in good faith", but warned the process will be a "long, windy, bumpy road".

President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani and Defense Secretary Mark Esper speak at the US-Afghanistan Joint Declaration Announcement in Kabul, Afghanistan on Saturday (Picture US Department of Defense).

Speaking at a Pentagon news conference yesterday, Mr Esper said he was not sure if the drawback had begun, but added it must start within 10 days of the US-Taliban peace agreement.

Washington expects a continued state of reduced violence from the Taliban in the coming days, similar to a week-long phase in the build-up to the deal.

“This is going to be a long, windy, bumpy road. There will be ups and downs, and we’ll and stop and start," said Mr Esper.

Meanwhile, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there is no expectation that violence in Afghanistan will "go to zero" quickly.

"A negotiated political settlement is the only responsible way to end the war in Afghanistan," Gen Milley added.

The Taliban military commission on Monday issued an order to its fighters on the ground to resume attacks against Afghan forces and the "Kabul puppet administration", but not against foreigners.

The UK has nearly 1,000 troops working in the Middle Eastern country, where they are training, advising and assisting local military and security forces.

"I'd imagine that would continue, but the Taliban have always said they want all foreign troops outside the country," said Sir William Patey, British Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2010 to 2012.

He added that he believes the support role of UK forces could be on the negotiation table in the future. 

The US has also promised to also lift sanctions against the Taliban and work with the United Nations in order to remove its separate sanctions against the Islamist group.

Talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are due to follow later this month.