US envoy rules out end to Afghan military support in Taliban deal

Zalmay Khalilzad denied the media reports on Monday, saying America backs government forces 'now and after Taliban deal'

epa07780281 An Afghan soldier marks the Independence Day in Helmand, Afghanistan, 19 August 2019.  Afghanistan is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its independence from British rule on 19 August.  EPA/WATAN YAR

The US will defend Afghanistan’s security forces “now and after any agreement with the Taliban”, America’s lead negotiator hashing out a peace agreement with the insurgents said on Monday.

Zalmay Khalilzad, who began the ninth round of talks in Doha at the weekend, denied reports from Reuters news agency that quoted two senior Taliban negotiators as saying the US had agreed to end support for Afghan security forces as part of their deal to end America’s longest and most costly war.

No one should be intimidated or fooled by propaganda! Let me be clear: We will defend Afghan forces now and after any agreement with the Taliban,” Mr Khalilzad tweeted. “All sides agree Afghanistan’s future will be determined in intra-Afghan negotiations.”

US and Taliban officials have been negotiating in Qatar since last year on an agreement centred on the withdrawal of American forces, and an end to their longest war, in exchange for a Taliban guarantee that international militant groups will not plot from Afghan soil.

US negotiators have been pressing the Taliban to agree to peace talks with the Kabul government and to a ceasefire, but a senior Taliban official said that would not happen.

"We will continue our fight against the Afghan government and seize power by force," a Taliban commander told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

President Donald Trump is impatient to withdraw troops out of Afghanistan and end the 18-year war that was launched after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US.

But there are fears among Afghan officials and US national security aides that an American troop withdrawal could see Afghanistan plunged into a new round of civil war that could herald a return of Taliban rule and international militants, including ISIS, finding a refuge.

The Taliban commander said that he expected a deal to be signed this week.

More than 14,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan, training and advising Afghan forces and conducting counterinsurgency operations. The US also provides much-needed air support for troops on the ground and carries out regular strikes against Taliban fighters.

About 17,000 troops from Nato allies and partners make up a Nato-led train, advise, assist mission called Resolute Support in Afghanistan.

Out of those, about 8,000 are from the US with the others from other Nato members and partners.