US says decision unclear on May 1 ‘force posture’ in Afghanistan

US government says ‘all options remain on the table’ for remaining 2,500 troops, adding it has made no decision about its May 1 commitment.

Afghanistan - US troops
A handout photo made available by the US Army shows soldiers from the 1-108th Cavalry Regiment of the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team scanning key terrain and provide security during a key leader engagement in Kapisa Province, Afghanistan, 16 February 2019 [EPA]

The United States says it has made no decision about its military commitment in Afghanistan over a May 1 deadline for pulling out its remaining 2,500 troops from the country.

The Department of State’s comments to the Reuters news agency came after reports emerged that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had made an urgent push for peace efforts in a letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani published on Sunday by TOLOnews, an Afghan news outlet.

The letter, confirmed by senior Afghan officials, was sent to Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the peace council, and was discussed with Afghan leaders by US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad during his visit to Kabul last week, the officials said.

“The letter was handed over to President Ghani and myself two days before the visit of Khalilzad,” Abdullah told a gathering in Kabul on Monday.

‘All options remain on table’

A US state department spokeswoman said on Sunday Washington has “not made any decisions about our force posture in Afghanistan after May 1”.

“All options remain on the table,” she said.

According to the letter published by TOLOnews, Blinken said the US is pursuing high-level diplomatic efforts “to move matters more fundamentally and quickly toward a settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire” and that the US military was considering exiting Afghanistan by May 1.

In the event of a US military withdrawal, Blinken said he was concerned “the security situation will worsen and that the Taliban could make rapid territorial gains,” adding he hoped Ghani would “understand the urgency of my tone”.

The letter also said the US would ask the United Nations to convene a meeting of foreign ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and the US “to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan” and would request that Turkey host a senior-level meeting of “both sides in the coming weeks to finalise a peace agreement”.

In order to “prevent a spring offensive by the Taliban”, the letter also proposed a 90-day reduction of violence.

Ghani met US special envoy Khalilzad in Kabul last week to how to revive the stalled peace negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban representatives currently being held in Qatar.

On Saturday, Ghani, in a bid to push the peace talks forward, said his government was ready to discuss holding fresh elections, insisting that any new government should emerge through a democratic process.

On Saturday, Taliban spokesman Naeem Wardak confirmed a meeting between the armed group, Khalilzad and General Scott Miller, the head of US forces and the NATO-led non-combat Resolute Support mission.

“Both sides expressed their commitment to the Doha agreement and discussed its full implementation. Likewise, the current situation of Afghanistan and the rapidity and effectiveness of the intra-Afghan negotiations were discussed,” Wardak said.

Violence and targeted killings have surged since the Afghan government began US-backed negotiations with the Taliban last September, but the talks have largely stalled.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies