U.S. should delay complete troop pullout in Afghanistan – report to Congress

U.S. troops wait for their helicopter flight at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in Logar province, Afghanistan, Aug. 7, 2018. (Reuters)

SULAIMANI (ESTA) — The United States should delay plans to pull all troops from Afghanistan by May 1 and make force reductions contingent on progress in peace talks as well as by the Taliban in reducing violence and containing al Qaeda, a bipartisan report to Congress said on Wednesday.

Washington should not abandon the Afghan peace process, the report said. But conditions for its success will not be met by a May 1 deadline set in a 2020 U.S.-Taliban agreement. Withdrawing all U.S. troops then could lead to civil war, destabilizing the region and reviving the al Qaeda threat.

The United States “should not…simply hand a victory to the Taliban,” said the Afghanistan Study Group report, reflecting criticism that the Trump administration conceded too much to the insurgents in a bid to end America’s longest war.

Congress commissioned the group, whose co-chairs included retired Marine General Joseph Dunford, a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, and Republican former Senator Kelly Ayotte.

Dunford told reporters the report was shared with aides to President Joe Biden, including Zalmay Khalilzad, the peace negotiator kept on from the Trump administration, who “found it helpful.”

The United States should revise its policy to help ensure that peace talks in Doha between the Taliban and a delegation that includes Afghan government officials produce a durable settlement to decades of war, it said.

“Achieving the overall objective of a negotiated stable peace that meets U.S. interests would need to begin with securing an extension of the May deadline,” said the report.

An extension would let the Biden administration revise policy, including conditioning further U.S. troop cuts on the Taliban reducing violence, ending cooperation with al Qaeda and making progress in the Doha negotiations, the report said.

The Taliban say al Qaeda fighters are no longer in Afghanistan and indicated that the Taliban will resume attacks on foreign forces if they remain past May 1.

A delay would also give Washington time to restructure U.S. civilian aid and offer Kabul incentives “to play a constructive role” in peace efforts and advancing women’s and minority rights.

The report came as the new administration reviews the peace process that the Trump administration began after signing a deal with the Taliban a year ago to withdraw U.S. troops.

That deal made the withdrawal contingent on ground conditions and on the Taliban ending the hosting of al Qaeda fighters and halting the group’s “recruiting, training and fund-raising.”

(Esta Media Network/Reuters)

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