The Pentagon in its first briefing under the Biden administration warned the Taliban it is jeopardizing its agreement with the United States for a full U.S. military withdrawal by May.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby stressed Thursday that no decisions have been made about troop levels and that the Biden administration is still committed to last year’s U.S.-Taliban deal.
But, he bluntly said the Taliban has not yet lived up to its commitments under the deal, adding it would be difficult for the United States to move forward with the agreement if that does not change.
“The Taliban have not met their commitments,” Kirby said. “Without them meeting their commitments to renounce terrorism and to stop the violent attacks on the Afghan National Security Forces, and by dint of that the Afghan people, it's very hard to see a specific way forward for the negotiated settlement.
“But we're still committed to that, there’s no question about that,” he continued. “The secretary’s been clear in testimony that we need to find a reasonable, rational end to this war, and that it's got to be done through a negotiated settlement that includes the Afghan government.”
Pressed further on the new administration’s position, Kirby said the “goal” is to reach the May deadline, but that “we're going to be making our decisions in a sober, rational manner that is driven by what's in our best interests and the interests of our partner in Afghanistan, as well as our NATO partners and allies.”
In February 2019, the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban that committed the United States to fully withdrawing from Afghanistan by May if the Taliban meets counterterrorism commitments such as denying safe haven to al Qaeda.
During the Trump administration, U.S. military officials said the Taliban had yet to break with al Qaeda. Officials also repeatedly condemned stepped up Taliban attacks on Afghan forces.
But former President Trump continued to draw down. Five days before Trump left office, the U.S. military hit his goal of dropping to 2,500 troops, the lowest level of U.S. troops in Afghanistan since 2001.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and Gen. Scott Miller, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, have assured that 2,500 is sufficient for the largely counterterrorism mission the U.S. military has now, Kirby said Thursday.
“If we can get to a negotiated settlement, then there won't be the need for those troops. Right now, there is,” Kirby said.
Since taking office, Biden administration officials said they are reviewing the U.S.-Taliban agreement, which is one of the areas where Biden’s transition team said the Trump administration obfuscated.
Last week, national security Jake Sullivan told his Afghan counterpart on a call that the administration was reviewing the agreement “to assess whether the Taliban was living up to its commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence in Afghanistan, and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and other stakeholders,” according to a National Security Council statement on the call.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken also told reporters Wednesday the administration needs to “understand ... exactly what is in the agreements that were reached between the United States and the Taliban to make sure that we fully understand the commitments that the Taliban has made, as well as any commitments that we’ve made.”
Blinken also confirmed the Biden administration has asked Trump’s envoy in Taliban negotiations, Zalmay Khalilzad, to stay and “continue the vital work that he is performing.”
In addition to Afghanistan, Kirby said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is reviewing U.S. force posture around the world “as you would expect him to do when he first comes into office.”
That includes reviewing Trump’s plan to withdraw nearly 12,000 U.S. troops from Germany, a plan that caught the U.S. ally by surprise, was lambasted by lawmakers in both parties and that Biden has been expected to reverse.
Kirby similarly said no decisions have been made on Germany force posture, but that Austin pledged in a call with his German counterpart that “whatever decision we make, we will do it in consultation with her and her government. There won't be any surprises.”