Ghani Sees U.S. Troops Staying in Afghanistan as Taliban Attacks

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani signaled Friday that he expects the Biden administration to keep U.S. troops in his country for longer than anticipated under the peace deal signed by the Trump administration, saying the Taliban aren’t meeting their commitments to reduce violence.

The United Nations has cited a dramatic surge in violence since Ghani’s government and the Taliban began peace talks in September, from attacks on Afghan army bases to attempts to capture key cities. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday that the Taliban’s refusal to reduce the violence is raising questions over whether the 2,500 U.S. troops remaining will leave by May as planned.

Such statements send “a signal to the Taliban that the U.S. is here to secure peace and not to retreat and leave the field open,” Ghani said during a virtual panel hosted by the Aspen Institute. Ghani said the new Biden administration’s review of the peace deal should take weeks, not months, a sign of a “very predictable” new phase in the U.S.-Afghanistan relationship.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke this week with Ghani, telling him that the U.S. is reviewing the February 2020 peace deal and “whether the Taliban are living up to their commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence in Afghanistan, and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and other stakeholders,” according to a State Department statement.

Ghani said he hopes to speak soon with President Joe Biden and that the U.S. is planning to send a team to Kabul to discuss how to “energize the peace talks.” He hinted at reduced powers for Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy who brokered the peace deal with Afghanistan’s Taliban, saying Khalilzad will be reporting to a “very organized decision-making process.”

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