US President Joe Biden has said he “can’t picture” US troops still being in Afghanistan next year, but did not offer a precise timetable as to when the withdrawal would take place.
All eyes are on Washington as Biden decides whether his country will leave the war-torn country by May 1, in line with a deal struck with the Taliban group, or stay put.
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Under the February 2020 deal negotiated by Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump’s administration, the US promised to withdraw all 2,500 US troops left in Afghanistan.
In return, the Taliban pledged to renounce violence, prevent groups such as al-Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a base from which to attack US and allied targets and enter into intra-Afghan peace talks.
Yet violence continues to plague the South Asian country, including a recent rise in deliberate killings of journalists, aid workers and government employees.
“It’s going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline,” Biden said at his first formal White House news conference of his presidency on Thursday.
In justifying the delay, he pointed to the “tactical” difficulties and the need to consult with allies that also have forces in Afghanistan.
Asked whether he envisions US soldiers still in Afghanistan in 2022, the president said: “I can’t picture that being the case.”
He also hinted at misgivings with the US-Taliban deal struck in early 2020, saying it appeared it is “not being able to be worked out.”
“If we leave, we are going to do so in a safe and orderly way,” he said.
Biden’s comments come as his administration strives to build international pressure on the Taliban and US-backed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government to reach a peace agreement and a ceasefire before the May 1 deadline.
The Taliban have indicated they could resume attacks on foreign troops if Biden does not meet the deadline.
Germany extends mission
Meanwhile, Germany paved the way for its troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond the May 1 deadline that the US last year agreed with the Taliban for the withdrawal of US forces.
Legislators approved late on Thursday a new mandate which allows the German military to keep up to 1,300 troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO mission until January 31, 2022.
The current parliamentary mandate for the German operation expires at the end of March.
The German government has warned that a premature withdrawal of NATO troops could jeopardise the intra-Afghan peace talks, adding that NATO troops would need to prepare for Taliban violence if they stay beyond the end of April.