Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen has told Al Jazeera in an exclusive interview that the armed group has the “right to react” if the United States still keeps troops in Afghanistan after September 11, when the withdrawal is due to complete.
US officials told The Associated Press news agency on Thursday that roughly 650 US soldiers were expected to remain in Afghanistan to provide security for diplomats after Washington pulled its forces out to end its 20-year military presence in the country.
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Reacting to the report, Shaheen told Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid in Doha that if the US did so, it would be in breach of an agreement aimed at ending the US’s longest war that was struck between Washington and the Taliban in the Qatari capital in February 2020.
“We have signed the Doha agreement and that was negotiated with the American side for 18 months. They have agreed and committed themselves that they will withdraw from Afghanistan all their military forces, advisers and contractors,” Shaheen said.
“I think it is a clear violation of that agreement,” he added.
“If they stay here, then I think it is a kind of continuation of the occupation. They have violated and we fully have the right to react,” Shaheen said.
US President Joe Biden in mid-April announced plans to withdraw the US troops from Afghanistan by September 11, adding several months to the May 1 deadline reached in the agreement between the administration of his predecessor, Donald Trump, and the Taliban after talks that excluded the Afghan government.
The final pullout of soldiers ordered by Biden began on May 1 when the number of US soldiers was between 2,500 and 3,500, and could be completed as soon as July 4. All international troops, including 7,000 NATO soldiers, are set to leave by September 11.
Shaheen told Al Jazeera that the Taliban had committed to providing secure passage to US forces as they withdraw from Afghanistan and that the armed group would not attack them.
“We remained loyal to that,” Shaheen said.
“We have not attacked them during their withdrawal. Even [when] they violated the May 1 full withdrawal from Afghanistan – still, we have not attacked them while we are fully capable to do that.”
Fears of a government collapse
The withdrawal comes amid considerable territorial gains made by the Taliban since the start of the US and NATO withdrawal, heightening Western fears that the Afghan government and its military could collapse in months.
The Taliban has overrun dozens of districts, while also stepping up its assaults on government positions.
Speaking in Paris on Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged that attacks on Afghan forces were increasing and that Washington was assessing if plans for peace were realistic.
“We are looking really carefully at the situation on the ground in Afghanistan and we’re also looking very hard at whether the Taliban is at all serious about a peaceful resolution to the conflict,” Blinken said.
“We continue to be engaged on diplomacy, but actions that would try to take the country by force are of course totally inconsistent with finding a peaceful resolution.”