The State Department says the administration has not yet made a final decision on the situation in Afghanistan
The United States should postpone the planned withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan by May 1 and make the drawdown of the U.S. contingent on progress in peace talks as well as the actions of the Taliban themselves. That’s according to a bipartisan report released to Congress Wednesday by the Afghanistan Study Group.
The report said Washington should not withdraw from the Afghan peace process. However, a full withdrawal of all troops cannot be completed by May 1, the deadline set in the 2020 agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban. Withdrawing all U.S. troops could lead to civil war, destabilize the region and revive the threat from al-Qaida, the report said.
The United States “shouldn’t … give up victory to the Taliban so easily,” the report, released by a group that studies the situation in Afghanistan, said. The same was said by opponents of the Trump administration, who argued that U.S. negotiators had conceded too much to the Taliban in trying to end the longest war involving U.S. troops.
The composition of the study group was approved by Congress. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and former Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte led the work on the report.
Dunford told reporters that the report was given to aides to President Joe Biden, including Zalmay Khalilzad, the peace negotiator who remained in the White House after the Trump administration left. The U.S. should review its policies to ensure that the peace talks being held in Qatar between the Taliban and Afghan officials are sure to bring an end to a war that has lasted a second decade.
“The overall goal of peace will be achieved through negotiations that meet U.S. interests, which will need to begin with a postponement of the May withdrawal deadline,” the report said.
The report said an extension of the deadline would allow the Biden administration to reconsider U.S. policy, including linking further troop reductions to Taliban actions: the group should stop resorting to violence, stop cooperating with al-Qaida and make progress in negotiations with official Kabul.
“The Taliban claim that al-Qaeda fighters are no longer on Afghan territory. At the same time, the group is threatening to resume attacks on foreign troops if U.S. soldiers remain in the country after May 1.
The postponement would also give Washington time to restructure U.S. peace aid to Afghanistan to encourage official Kabul to take a “constructive approach to peacemaking and protecting the rights of women and minorities.”
Immediately following the release of the report, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that “no decisions have been made at this time regarding our power positions (in Afghanistan),” Price told reporters, adding that the Biden administration is also now reviewing the text of the foreign troop withdrawal pact that was negotiated between the Trump administration and the Taliban.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham supported the conclusions of the report to Congress, saying they should be an action plan for achieving “sustainable peace” in Afghanistan.
Graham suggested that the Biden administration agrees with the recommendations made by the Afghanistan Study Group experts.
“My hope is that we can develop a bipartisan approach to Afghanistan, that we can make sure that our hard-won gains are not wasted, and that we can take a responsible approach to reducing our contingent,” Graham said.