In a move that may lead to increased violence in Afghanistan, officials of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) confirmed on January 31 that foreign troops are likely to remain in the conflict-ridden Afghan territory beyond the April-end deadline.
As per the agreement signed between the Taliban and the US government in Doha in February last year, foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan were to be limited to 2,500 personnel, and by the end of April, a conducive atmosphere was to allow their complete withdrawal from the country. The 2020 Doha agreement also included some prerequisite guidelines and security guarantees to be met by the insurgent Taliban and the Afghan government before the foreign troops’ withdrawal.
With the appointment of Joe Biden as the new US president on January 20, there is caution being shown by the US administration with regard to the withdrawal policy. Jake Sullivan, the recently appointed national security adviser, confirmed on January 22 that the Biden-led administration is thinking of “reviewing the peace deal.”
There is speculation that NATO countries like Norway, Canada and Germany plan on keeping their troops inside Afghanistan until the intra-Afghan peace talks lead to any substantial result, media reports said,
Reuters quoted NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu saying, “We have been clear that our presence remains condition based”. Since the conditions have not been met there is a possibility of a “more calculated exit strategy,” Lungescu said, adding that foreign troops did not want to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary.
Political observers note the US-Taliban peace deal may not be enough to end the conflict and ensure lasting security in Afghanistan. Experts point to several flaws and inconsistencies in the agreement which need to be revisited.
Since the beginning of the intra-Afghan peace talks in Qatar on September 12, violence has continued in Afghanistan. Over the last six months, the rate of airstrikes carried out by the Afghan armed forces has almost doubled. According to the report Afghanistan’s Rising Civilian Death Toll Due to Aistrikes, “the Afghan Air Forces have killed 70 civilians and injured 90 others” between July and September 2020.
The recently released annual report of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) estimates that at least 3,000 Afghan civilians were killed and 5,000 others were wounded last year.