After a round of talks in Moscow, the Taliban said Friday they expect the United States to fulfill its pledge to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by May.
Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanikzai, who led the Taliban delegation that met with senior Russian diplomats during two days of talks, insisted that the movement has honored its end of the deal signed last year on Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office.
White House and U.S. State Department officials have said that Biden’s administration plans to take a new look at the peace agreement signed last February with Donald Trump’s White House.
The Pentagon said on Thursday that the Taliban’s refusal to meet commitments to reduce violence in Afghanistan is raising questions about whether all U.S. troops will be able to leave by May as required under the peace deal.
In remarks carried by Russian news agencies, Stanikzai insisted that the Taliban have been abiding by the deal — despite relentless attacks and continued high levels of Taliban violence against Afghan forces.
“Ever since we signed the agreement with the American side, we haven’t been involved in any aggressive actions,” Stanikzai said. “We hope that the U.S. will continue to honor the agreement reached in Doha, it’s in its interests.”
The peace agreement called for the U.S. to reduce troop levels to 2,500, and then to remove all forces by May. Trump ordered U.S. troops levels in Afghanistan cut to 2,500 just days before he left office, presenting Biden with difficult decisions about how to retain leverage against the Taliban in support of peace talks.
Stanikzai warned that if the U.S. reneges on the deal, the Taliban will continue their fight against the government in Kabul. The insurgents are now at their strongest since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban regime for harboring al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and the Taliban control or hold sway over nearly half of Afghanistan
“We hope that the U.S. will leave,” Stanikzai said. “But if it doesn’t, we would have no other choice but to defend ourselves and continue our struggle.”
He strongly rejected allegations that Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban for killing American soldiers as “an absolute lie.”
U.S. officials have said they were analyzing intelligence about the bounties offered by Russia. Moscow has rejected the claim.
Stanikzai said that the Taliban and Russia “share a common understanding of various issues related to the peace process in Afghanistan,” voicing hope that Moscow will help the settlement. In particular, he added the Taliban expect Russia to support the lifting of the U.N. sanctions on the Taliban leaders.
Stanikzai also voiced hope that ongoing, stop-and-start peace talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government that began last year will produce results soon.
The peace talks, which are taking place in Qatar, resumed earlier this month but have been marred by the latest spike in violence, with both sides blaming each other.
Moscow, which fought a 10-year war in Afghanistan that ended with Soviet troops’ withdrawal in 1989, has made a diplomatic comeback as a power broker in Afghanistan, mediating between feuding factions as it jockeys with Washington for influence in the country. In 2019, it hosted talks between various Afghan factions.
By Vladimir Isachenkov for the Associated Press in Moscow, Russia.