The Taliban called on president-elect Joe Biden to honour a US agreement to withdraw all American forces from Afghanistan by May to secure intra-Afghan peace talks and end the two-decade war.
Mohammad Naeem, a senior spokesman in the Taliban’s political office in Doha, said on Monday that "steps must be taken to end the war, not to prolong it".
“The agreement was made for the purpose,” he said.
He was referring to an accord the US signed last February that paved the way for a complete withdrawal of troops by May in exchange for security guarantees from the Taliban.
“The lack of complete implementation of the agreement can affect the ongoing process of negotiations,” Mr Naeem said.
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The call from the insurgent group came days after the US reduced its troop levels from 4,500 to 2,500 at President Donald Trump’s direction, despite opposition from Republican and Democrat politicians who said the decision could affect counterterrorism operations.
Mr Naeem welcomed the troop reduction and said it was a “good advancement".
While it is unclear whether Mr Biden will withdraw all US troops by the deadline, his nominee for national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told CNN this month that the new administration would support diplomacy with the Taliban.
Mr Sullivan urged the insurgent group to cut ties with terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda, ensure a reduction in violence and participate in “good-faith negotiations” with the Afghan government.
The Biden transition team declined to weigh in.
Andrew Watkins, a senior analyst with International Crisis Group, said the May 1 troop withdrawal deadline was the biggest early challenge for the peace process and one of the most urgent problems facing the Biden team.
“If the Biden administration ignores the deadline set down in the US-Taliban agreement without discussing and clearing a delay with the insurgents, the Taliban will almost certainly respond by escalating their use of force – either via attacks on population centres, facilities housing international troops or both,” Mr Watkins said on Monday.
A reduction in US troops – who provide air support to Afghan forces – will not affect the ability of Afghan forces to push back against the Taliban, according to a spokesman for the country’s National Security Council, Rahmatullah Andar.
The Afghan government and the Taliban resumed negotiations early this month under the shadow of violence, after several journalists, government employees and independent human rights advocates were killed.
Since November, five journalists have been killed in attacks and two others died in Kabul from unknown causes.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the US blamed the Taliban for the killings. The insurgents deny the allegations.
Attempting to end the bloodshed, Mr Ghani’s negotiating team is pushing harder for a ceasefire agreement before negotiating other key agenda items – including a power-sharing deal – with the Taliban.
However, the group wants to declare a ceasefire in the final stages of the talks.
“The Taliban should understand that such actions for which it bears responsibility outrage the world and must cease if peace is to come to Afghanistan,” the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ross Wilson, said on Sunday, condemning the attacks on the female judges.