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Taliban won’t partake in peace talks until withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Mullah Baradar (2nd-L), the Taliban’s deputy leader and chief negotiator, takes part in a conference on Afghanistan’s peace process, in Moscow, Russia, on March 18, 2021. (File photo by Reuters)

The Taliban say they would not participate in any peace talks for Afghanistan until all foreign forces leave the Asian country.

“Until all foreign forces completely withdraw from our homeland, (we) will not participate in any conference that shall make decisions about Afghanistan,” Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem said in a post on Twitter on Tuesday.

Naeem made the remark following reports that US President Joe Biden had decided to withdraw all American troops from the war-ravaged Afghanistan by September 11 this year.

A senior US administration official said on Tuesday the United States “will begin an orderly drawdown of the remaining forces before May 1 and plan to have all US troops out of the country before the 20th anniversary of 9/11.”

The plan is expected to be formally announced Wednesday, the White House said, pushing back a May 1 withdrawal deadline set in a peace deal negotiated by former president Donald Trump with the Taliban.

This is while the militant group has already threatened to resume attacks against US-led foreign troops in Afghanistan if Washington fails to meet the agreed deadline.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are expected to discuss the decision with NATO allies in Brussels on Wednesday.

Biden’s decision suggests he has concluded that the US military presence will no longer be decisive in achieving a lasting peace in Afghanistan.

“There is no military solution to the problems plaguing Afghanistan, and we will focus our efforts on supporting the ongoing peace process,” the senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, according to Reuters.

The disclosure of the plan came on the same day that the US intelligence community predicted “low” chances of a peace deal this year in a report sent to Congress, warning that the Afghan government would struggle to hold the Taliban militant group at bay if the US-led coalition withdraws support.

“Kabul continues to face setbacks on the battlefield, and the Taliban is confident it can achieve military victory,” it stated.

US Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has also accused Biden of planning to “turn tail and abandon the fight in Afghanistan.”

“Precipitously withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan is a grave mistake,” McConnell said.

Officials in Afghanistan are already bracing for the withdrawal.

“We will have to survive the impact of it, and it should not be considered as Taliban’s victory or takeover,” said a senior Afghan government source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, Reuters reported.

Under a February 2020 deal between the Taliban and the Trump administration, Washington vowed to withdraw all the US troops remaining in Afghanistan. In return, the Taliban pledged to stop attacks on US troops.

The US, along with its NATO allies, invaded Afghanistan in October 2001. The invasion — which has led to the longest war in US history — removed the Taliban from power, but the militant group never stopped its attacks.

Washington has spent trillions of dollars waging the war on Afghanistan, which has left thousands of Afghan civilians and American soldiers dead.

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.

NATO likely to withdraw from Afghanistan in September: Germany

German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said Wednesday that there was a probability that NATO would withdraw all troops from Afghanistan in September, at the same time as the US.

"We always said: we'll go in together, we'll leave together," she told ARD public television. "I am for an orderly withdrawal and that is why I assume that we (NATO) will agree to that today."

Britain to withdraw nearly all its troops from Afghanistan

Meanwhile, Britain has decided to withdraw nearly all its troops from Afghanistan following Washington’s decision to pull out its troops by September 11.

Britain has drawn up plans to hand over control of the academy in Kabul where troops help train Afghan soldiers to the government, The Times reported on Tuesday.

According to the newspaper, there are about 750 British soldiers in Afghanistan who would struggle without US support because of the reliance on US bases and infrastructure.

Turkey to host Afghanistan peace process

Turkey has announced it would host an international peace conference on Afghanistan from April 24 to May 4 in an attempt to sketch out a possible political settlement.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that the Afghan government and the Taliban militant group would attend the meeting, which would include representatives from the United Nations (UN) and Qatar.

“Participation in the conference and its agenda have been the subject of extensive consultations with the Afghan parties,” the ministry said.

However, the Taliban said their internal discussions regarding the meeting have not completed yet, adding that the date can't be specified until their discussions are completed.

On Monday, the Taliban had said they were unwilling, based on timing, to attend the talks in Turkey, initially scheduled for April 16.

A diplomatic source told Reuters that more than 20 countries had been invited, including Iran and Afghanistan’s other neighbors.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric has told reporters in New York that “we very much hope” the Taliban will attend.

The Turkey summit is meant to end the Afghan conflict, pave the way for a “just and durable” political settlement and “accelerate and complement” intra-Afghan negotiations in the Qatari capital Doha, the ministry said.

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