The Taliban have threatened to resume attacks against US-led foreign troops in Afghanistan following remarks by President Joe Biden that he may extend the US military presence beyond the May 1 deadline.
The Taliban said in a statement that if Washington fails to meet the deadline – set in a peace deal negotiated by former president Donald Trump – the group will be “compelled" to continue "armed struggle against foreign forces to liberate its country.”
The threat by the armed group – which continues to control most of Afghanistan despite the massive presence of US-led forces – came after Biden said on Thursday that it would be hard to withdraw the remaining American troops by May 1.
“It’s not my intention to stay there for a long time,” Biden claimed. “We will leave. The question is when we leave.”
When asked whether US forces will still remain in Afghanistan next year, Biden vaguely asserted, “I can’t picture that being the case.”
Biden further pointed to ongoing discussions on Afghanistan, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken's meetings with NATO allies that have troops in the war-torn country.
"And if we leave, we're going to do so in a safe and orderly way," he said.
The Taliban's statement underlined that the group was committed to the agreement, which it described as the “most sensible and shortest path” to end the conflict.
Responsibility for its prolongation “will be on the shoulders of those who committed this violation,” it added.
“If anyone violates the Doha agreement and adopts the path of war, Afghans have a long history of giving sacrifices for the freedom of their country and can drive out by force the foreign troops,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid was quoted as saying.
“No one should try the will of Afghans in this regard . . . and all foreign troops must leave Afghanistan on the set time as Afghans have the right to decide about their country. Whoever wants to extend the 20 years of war will suffer more financial and human losses,” he added.
Under the February 2020 “peace” deal between the Taliban and the Trump administration, Washington vowed to withdraw all 2,500 US troops remaining in Afghanistan. In return, the Taliban pledged to stop attacks on US troops.
However, attacks continue to plague the South Asian nation, including a recent upsurge in killings of journalists, aid workers and government employees.
Biden’s remarks came ahead of a US-sponsored conference on the Afghan “peace process” in Turkey, where negotiators are expected to discuss the formation of an interim administration in Afghanistan in the coming weeks that would involve Taliban representatives — an idea opposed by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Ghani, whose government was sidelined from the US-Taliban talks in Doha last year, has been demanding that foreign troops remain in Afghanistan for a few more years and that the Biden administration review Trump’s deal with the Taliban.
US spy agencies warn of Taliban takeover
Biden's remarks coincided with US intelligence agencies claiming that the Taliban could overrun most of Afghanistan within two to three years if the American forces left the country before a power-sharing deal was reached between the warring parties.
Such a takeover would potentially allow the al-Qaeda to rebuild in Afghanistan, The New York Times reported on Friday, quoting anonymous US officials.
A number of American officials that favor the stay of US troops in Afghanistan are using the intelligence report to argue that the soldiers should remain beyond the deadline, according to the report.
The White House has so far declined to comment on the report, which said the classified intelligence assessment was prepared last year for the Trump administration.
On Thursday, Gen. Richard Clarke, the head of US Special Operations Command, echoed the sentiments of other military leaders.
Clarke told a Senate hearing that no decision has been made about the withdrawal. “We will always provide options” to deter or defeat what he referred to as al-Qaeda, Daesh or other terrorism threats, he said.
After nearly 20 years of persistent operations in war zones and around the globe, US special operations forces have seen spikes in suicides and bad behavior.
Clarke, who ordered a review last year to address the problems, said they have cut back deployments by about 20 percent and shifted leadership out of overseas headquarters so they can more closely supervise and train their forces.
More than 100,000 Afghans have been killed or wounded since 2009 when the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began documenting casualties.
Biden, like his predecessor, has promised to end the longest US conflict and bring American soldiers back to the country.
Roughly 7,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan rely on the US for logistics and security support and will also have to pull out if the American forces withdraw.