Biden administration to review US peace deal with Taliban

Afghan government welcomes decision as violence escalates despite months of peace talks

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (C) arrives with the government delegation during a visit in Herat province on January 21, 2021. / AFP / HOSHANG HASHIMI

President Joe Biden's administration said it will review the US peace agreement reached with the Taliban last year, in a move that was welcomed by the Afghan government.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan discussed the agreement with his Afghan counterpart Hamdullah Mohib in a phone call on Friday, according to a White House statement.

Mr Sullivan said the review would assess "whether the Taliban was living up to its commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence in Afghanistan and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and other stakeholders", the statement said.

Under the deal signed in February between the United States and the Taliban, US forces are to leave Afghanistan by May this year, in exchange for counter-terrorism guarantees and the start of peace talks with the Afghan government.

However, the level of violence in Afghanistan has increased since the talks began in September, hastening international calls for a ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

"We welcome the US’ intention to review the February 2020 US-Taliban agreement," Afghan deputy interior minister Seddiq Seddiqi said in a tweet.

"The agreement so far, did not deliver a desired goal of ending Taliban's violence and bringing a ceasefire desired by the Afghans. The Taliban did not live up to its commitments."

Last week, the number of US troops in Afghanistan dropped to 2,500, the lowest level of American forces there since 2001.

Afghan government and Taliban representatives met earlier this month for the second round of peace talks, where contentious issues such as a ceasefire and power-sharing were expected to be discussed.

The White House statement said Mr Sullivan underscored that the US will support the peace process with "a robust and regional diplomatic effort", which will aim to help the two sides achieve a durable and just political settlement and permanent ceasefire.

Mr Sullivan also discussed "the United States' support for protecting the extraordinary gains made by Afghan women, girls and minority groups as part of the peace process".

The Taliban last week called on Mr Biden to honour the agreement by completing the US troop withdrawal, saying "steps must be taken to end the war, not to prolong it".

“The agreement was made for the purpose,” Mohammad Naeem, a senior spokesman in the Taliban’s political office in Doha, said.

“The lack of complete implementation of the agreement can affect the ongoing process of negotiations,” Mr Naeem said.

Deadly attacks and high-profile assassinations in Afghanistan have increased in recent months, particularly in Kabul where several journalists, activists, judges and politicians have been murdered in brazen daylight attacks.

The Taliban have denied responsibility for these killings, but Afghan and US officials have blamed the group for the murders.

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