Afghan government seeks guarantees from US ahead of troop withdrawal

Kabul hopes Americans will stop short of complete pull-out

An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier stands during the Eid al-Adha festival near the old fortress of Bala Hissar in Kabul on August 11, 2019. Afghans have started celebrating Eid al-Adha or "Feast of the Sacrifice", which marks the end of the annual Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca and is celebrated in remembrance of Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son to God. / AFP / WAKIL KOHSAR
Powered by automated translation

The US is preparing an agreement with the Afghan government to reassure Kabul that an American peace deal with the Taliban will not lead to the group reclaiming power after foreign troops withdraw.

Kabul is seeking continued US support for Afghan security forces, and for some American troops to remain and fight other insurgent groups, including ISIS.

Key points of the proposed agreement, which is under negotiation as the US seeks a deal with the Taliban to end the 18-year war, were exclusively shared with The National by sources close to the Afghan government.

“The US agreement with the Taliban will not mean that there will be a Talibanisation of Afghanistan, but it will indicate a start to the intra-Afghan dialogue,” a source close to the Afghan government said.

Despite continuing talks with the US, the Taliban has so far refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which it considers a puppet regime.

The Taliban insurgency is by some measures more powerful than at any time since the US invasion.

The group controls 59 of the country’s 407 districts and contests another 119, according to the US office for Afghanistan reconstruction. About 10 per cent of the population live in areas under Taliban control.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly stated his desire to end a war in which 2,430 American soldiers have died, including 10 this year.

The Afghan government hopes the US will agree to increasing its military presence in Afghanistan in the future “if the Taliban do not comply with their agreements and promises", the source said.

The government is also seeking greater involvement in ceasefire negotiations.

A top Afghan security official confirmed that Kabul was seeking an agreement with Washington.

He referred to it as a joint declaration that would be announced officially when the US had concluded its deal with the Taliban.

“The purpose of this will be to redirect all talks to Afghan government once the US is done with their preliminary agreement with Taliban," the official said.

"This will officially start direct talks between Afghan government and the Taliban."

The official said there were some efforts to delay this deal until after presidential elections were held in September.

Security analysts cautioned that the release of the drafts could be calculated to influence continuing discussions.

“We are seeing lots of variations in the leaks and frankly they are usually motivated by spin,” said Graeme Smith, a consultant for the International Crisis Group think tank in Brussels.

The Afghan government hopes the US will stop short of a complete withdrawal, the senior security official said.

But the Taliban have said they are against a permanent foreign presence in the country.

“The Taliban have always rejected a lingering Korea-style US troop presence,” Mr Smith said, referring to large-scale American military presence in South Korea since the 1950s.

“That was something the Americans proposed early in the negotiations but the two sides had agreed by January 2019 that a peace agreement would include a full US withdrawal.”

The Taliban has already made several concessions, however, including agreement in principle to a phased withdrawal of foreign troops while intra-Afghan talks go on.

Reaching a ceasefire agreement that ends increasing violence remains a priority for Afghan civilians.

More than 3,800 civilian casualties were reported in the first half of this year, the UN says.

The report documented a 27 per cent increase in war-related civilian deaths in the second quarter, compared to the first three months of the year.

“Nothing is more important than a ceasefire,” the senior Afghan security official said.