US President Joe Biden has said that it would be “tough” to meet the deadline to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by May 1, as agreed with the Taliban in a deal secured under Donald Trump.
The Taliban insurgents have largely stuck to a promise not to attack US or other foreign troops since the agreement was struck in February last year, but they say the date to end America’s longest war is inflexible.
“Could happen, but it is tough,” Biden said when asked about the May 1 deadline in a TV interview broadcast on Wednesday. “I’m in the process of making that decision now.”
The Taliban quickly reacted to Biden’s comments, with a spokesman telling AFP there would be “consequences” if the United States did not stick to the agreed timetable further raising pressure on the fragile peace process. Washington wants to jump-start the process and get the Taliban and Afghan government to agree to some form of power-sharing.
Major urban centers in Afghanistan are in the grip of a worsening terror campaign in the form of deadly attacks targeting politicians, civil servants, academics, rights activists and journalists.
The Taliban deny all responsibility but the government says they are to blame — either directly, or by using proxies. A complete exit of US troops — given the vital air cover provided to Afghan ground forces would further loosen Kabul’s tenuous grip on the countryside.
Trump, who dubbed the conflict America’s “endless war,” cut troop numbers during his final days in office to 2,500 — their lowest figure since the start of operations 20 years ago.
Afghanistan has been engulfed by a two-decade insurgency by the Taliban since the Islamist militants were ousted by a US-led invasion in 2001 for harboring the Al-Qaeda terror network.
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