The US commander for the Middle East and Afghanistan has said the Taliban are not keeping “their part of the bargain” from the deal signed with the US earlier this month, saying the insurgents were continuing to launch attacks.
Marine Gen Frank McKenzie was giving evidence to Congress on Tuesday, hours after US forces began pulling out of Afghanistan as agreed in the 29 February deal, and as talks between Taliban and government representatives were due to begin.
“The Taliban need to keep their part of the bargain, and they are continuing attacks,” McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, said. “They are not directed against coalition forces, they are not occurring in city centers, they are occurring at isolated checkpoints. But those attacks are occurring, and they’re not consistent with a movement toward a negotiated settlement, and they’re not consistent with the undertaking they made.”
The US-Taliban deal followed a week-long partial ceasefire, but it did not include an agreement to continue that ceasefire. Trump administration officials have said that the withdrawal of the 13,000-strong US military presence in Afghanistan, due to happen over 14 months, would be “conditions-based”.
“We’re going to go to 8,600 by the summer,” McKenzie said. “Conditions on the ground will dictate if we go below that. If conditions on the ground are not permissive, my advice would not be to continue that reduction.”
US officials have not spelled out the conditions for the US withdrawal to continue, leaving the Trump administration much room for manoeuvre in interpreting success.
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