Peace Process Update: May 7
Taliban Violence Increases After President Biden Announces U.S. Troop Withdrawal By Sep. 11; Sec. Blinken Visits Afghanistan to Sell the Exit Decision; Afghan Parliament Reacts to the Announcement
The Taliban have increased attacks across Afghanistan in the weeks following President Joe Biden’s announcement to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11th, marking the end of America’s longest war 20 years after the terrorist attacks that sparked it. As the U.S. and NATO began pulling their troops from the country on May 1, the Taliban has intensified violent attacks against major cities and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), forcing thousands of civilians to flee their homes. There were 870 Taliban attacks that took place in more than 23 Provinces and 82 districts across the country since May 1st.
This is a 30 percent increase in Taliban attacks from last week when the insurgent group carried out 645 attacks. In Helmand Province, the intensity of attacks has compelled U.S. warplanes to support the ANDSF with airstrikes against Taliban advances in support of major population centers. The Taliban’s major offensive in the Helmand forced nearly 1,000 families to flee their homes to escape the heavy fighting that erupted on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, and some other parts of the Province.
President Biden addressed the nation from the Treaty room in the White House, the same room where President George W. Bush announced the start of the war. Biden said that “It is time to end America’s longest war…I am now the fourth United States president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth.” Biden’s decision misses the May 1 deadline for a troop withdrawal stipulated in a peace agreement the Trump administration reached with the Taliban last year. Soon after the announcement, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels said the alliance had agreed to withdraw its nearly 7,000 forces from Afghanistan, matching Biden’s decision to begin a final drawdown by May 1.
U.S. officials say that President Biden rebuffed his top military commanders’ advice in making the decision to leave Afghanistan. Senior military officers and the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin who also shared their concerns, all recommended maintaining the current 2,500 troops in the country while speeding up diplomacy to achieve a political settlement. The President’s own intelligence chiefs in the administration argued that the U.S. would lose its leverage to force concessions from the Taliban. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified assessment report this week finding that the Taliban “would roll back” most of the gains made in women’s rights over the past twenty years in Afghanistan. The decision has drawn strong rebukes from Republican leaders in Congress – including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Lindsey Graham – along with some Democrats in Congress, including Senator Jeanne Shaheen who has expressed grave concerns about the safety of Afghan women.
The decision to withdraw troops has rattled the Afghan people and emboldened the Taliban. Hours after the first media reports were released a Taliban spokesman said on Twitter that they will not participate in any peace conference until “all foreign forces completely withdraw.” Another Taliban spokesman later wrote on Twitter that Washington was violating its agreement for a May 1 withdrawal and vowed “to take every necessary countermeasure,” asserting that “the American side will be held responsible for all future consequences.” The Istanbul peace talks – scheduled to happen on April 24 – were postponed until after Ramadan due to the Taliban’s refusal to attend the summit.
In Kabul, the Afghan Parliament was first to react to the unconditional withdrawal of U.S. troops by September 11, with the Speaker of Parliament Mir Rahman Rahmani saying that “It is possible that Afghanistan turns into another civil war or becomes a haven for international terrorist organizations.”
On the heels of Biden’s decision, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan to assure the Afghan government and civil society that the United States will remain committed to the country. “I wanted to demonstrate with my visit the ongoing commitment of the United States to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanistan. The partnership is changing, but the partnership itself is enduring.”