US ‘exploring keeping’ counterterrorism troops in Afghanistan

Biden administration looking at a deal where the Taliban would allow the force to stay in Afghanistan, says US lawmaker.

A US soldier uses the optic on his rifle to observe Afghans in the distance, near forward operating base Gamberi in Laghman province of Afghanistan [File: Lucas Jackson/Reuters]

The Biden administration is looking to keep US troops in Afghanistan past a May 1 deadline while exploring a deal in which the Taliban would allow a US counterterrorism force to remain as they confront their ISIL (ISIS) foes, a US legislator has said.

House of Representatives Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith’s comments provided new details of US President Joe Biden’s handling of the Afghanistan peace process, which he inherited from the Trump administration.

The state department referred questions to the White House. The White House and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

US officials said Biden has made no decision on the deadline to withdraw the last US troops from the US’s longest war.

Biden has said it would be “tough” to meet the deadline set in a February 2020 deal struck with the Taliban.

Addressing an online Foreign Policy magazine forum, Smith on Wednesday said he spoke to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin about the withdrawal.

“I think there’s a general feeling that May 1 is too soon, just logistically,” he said. “We have got … closer to 3,500 troops in Afghanistan. Our allies have around 7,000.”

“You cannot pull out 10,000-plus troops in any sort of way in six weeks.”

He added that the US administration’s “job one” is talking to the Taliban about allowing the US-led force to remain a little longer.

He noted the Taliban demand that all foreign troops leave. If that remains their position, he said: “I don’t see that we have much choice but to leave,” removing all forces, including the counterterrorism ones.

“What the Biden administration wants to do is negotiate past May 1 and then at least explore the option: Has the Taliban changed their mind as they … are fighting ISIS almost as much as they are fighting the Afghan government,” Smith continued.

“Might their position change about a US presence? I doubt it. But I think the administration is thinking it’s worth the conversation,” he said.

The Taliban has been fighting ISIL’s local affiliate, and US air raids have proved critical to helping them rout their rivals.

But, experts say, the ISIL remains a serious threat.

The Taliban have indicated they will resume attacking foreign forces if Biden fails to meet the May 1 deadline, and some experts doubt they would allow any US forces to stay.

Source: Reuters