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Saturday, January 22, 2022

‘Extended Troika’ urges calm as US begins troop withdrawal


US President Joe Biden formally began withdrawing American troops from Kabul on Saturday.

Russia, the US, China, and Pakistan have called on all parties involved in the Afghan conflict to reduce the level of violence in Kabul, urging the Taliban to “fulfil its counterterrorism commitments” and not to pursue its spring offensive.

The call for calm came during the latest Troika [Pakistan, the US, Russia and China] meeting in Qatar on Saturday, where the bloc released a 14-point joint statement regarding the ongoing Afghan peace process.

The parties also engaged in discussions to reach a “negotiated settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire“. Representatives from Troika also held meetings with officials from the Afghan government and the Taliban in Qatar.

The joint statement also touched on the importance of the US and NATO troop withdrawal from Kabul, stressing the need to ensure a “steady transition” to the decades-long conflict.

“We stress that during the withdrawal period, the peace process should not be disrupted, no fights or turbulence shall occur in Afghanistan, and the safety of international troops should be ensured,” read the statement.

Afghanistan has been witnessing a surge in violence since US President Joe Biden’s announcement to pull out all American and NATO forces by September 11th instead of the May 1st deadline that was stipulated in a February agreement signed with the Taliban in Doha last year.

The Troika representatives called on the Taliban to abide by its commitment to reduce violence, including “preventing terrorist groups and individuals from using Afghan soil to threaten the security of any other country”.

Read also: Pakistan delegation in Qatar to revive Afghan peace process: reports

The statement also urged them to avoid hosting terrorist groups and “preventing them from recruiting, training, and fundraising”. It also condemned attacks deliberately targeting civilians in Afghanistan and called on the group to commit to its obligations under international and humanitarian law.

“We reiterate that diplomatic personnel and property shall be inviolable, and the perpetrators of any attack or threat on foreign diplomatic personnel and properties in Kabul will be held accountable,” added the statement.

The conflict cannot be solved through a military solution and a negotiated political settlement for peace and stability in Kabul can only be reached through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process, Troika added.

The statement called on the Afghan government and the High Council for National Reconciliation to “engage openly with their Taliban counterparts regarding a negotiated settlement”.

“We do not support the establishment in Afghanistan of any government imposed by force.”

On the postponed Istanbul meeting, previously scheduled to take place from April 24th to May 4th, the Troika said that there are preparations by Turkey to host a conference after the Ramadan in order to fast-track the intra-Afghan talks.

A settlement was expected to be reached in the 10-day summit and proposals to hold elections were expected to be presented at the meeting, which was postponed due to the Taliban’s refusal to attend.

“We reaffirm that any peace agreement must include protections for the rights of all Afghans, including women, men, children, victims of war, and minorities, and should respond to the strong desire of all Afghans for economic, social, and political development including the rule of law,” concluded the statement.

US withdrawal

Meanwhile, the US officially began its gradual troop withdrawal from Afghanistan on Saturday, laying the grounds to ensure a complete pullout by September 11th, according to the Associated Press [AP],

The move would end America’s longest-fought war.

Reports confirmed troops had been working on shipping back equipment on C-17 cargo planes and deciding on what to hand over to the Afghan security forces before Saturday.

Read also: Biden to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11

Since Biden’s announcement in April, up to 60 members of the military left Afghanistan.

The remaining 2,500-to-3,500 US troops and 7,000 NATO soldiers will leave by the new deadline, which was set by the Biden administration with no further conditions.

Shortly after the newly-announced deadline, the Taliban accused Washington of failing to fulfil its obligation of the February agreement.

On Saturdya, Taliban military spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the passing of the May 1 deadline “opened the way for [Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan] mujahidin to take every counteraction it deems appropriate against the occupying forces”.

Fighters will wait for a decision from the leadership before launching any attacks, Mujahid said, noting that the decision will be based on “the sovereignty, values and higher interests of the country”.

However, a NATO official told AFP “any Taliban attacks during the withdrawal will be met with a forceful response. We plan to have our withdrawal completed within a few months”.

The US is temporarily deploying extra forces to protect remaining international troops as they withdraw from the war-torn country.

“The president’s intent is clear: the US military departure from Afghanistan will not be rushed or hasty. It will be deliberate and conducted in a safe and responsible manner that ensures the protection of forces,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said.

“Potential adversaries should they attack us, our withdrawal, we will defend ourselves, our partners, with all the tools at our disposal. These deployments represent some of those tools.”

America’s longest war

In the past two decades alone, the US has spent more than $2 trillion in Afghanistan, according to the Costs of War project at Brown University, as quoted by the AP.

The US deployed its troops weeks after the September 11 attacks in New York, in alleged efforts to fight Al Qaeda.

Then militant leader, Osama bin Laden, was later killed in Pakistan in 2011 during an operation led by President Barack Obama’s administration. At the time, Biden served as the vice president.

It is estimated that 66,000 to 69,000 Afghan troops were killed since the beginning of the war. Washington has also recorded 2,442 deaths among its soldiers as well 20,666 injuries.

The conflict also killed 1,144 others from the NATO countries.

The Afghan military has been battered by corruption, and the US and NATO pay $4 billion a year to sustain the force.

However, Afghans have paid the highest price, with up to 47,245 civilians killed and millions more being displaced in Afghanistan or abroad, according to the Costs of War project.

The initial peace process to end the decades-long conflict initially began in Qatar in 2019, when all parties involved in the war first met face-to-face in efforts to reach a settlement.

Since then, the talks have faced hurdles amid ongoing attacks.

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