Taliban stepped up attacks on Afghans as peace talks collapsed, Pentagon watchdog says

Taliban stepped up attacks on Afghans as peace talks collapsed, Pentagon watchdog says

WASHINGTON – In the first three months of 2021, the Taliban stepped up their attacks on the Afghan people, maintained close ties with al-Qaeda, and actively planned large-scale offensives – all while failing peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. progress, according to a new report from the Defense Ministry’s Inspector General’s office.

US-Afghanistan forces have reported a historic increase in enemy attacks since the signing of the US-Taliban accord, with nearly 37% more enemy attacks this quarter than in the last quarter. the same period in 2020, ”according to the Pentagon report. Watchdog spoke about Operation Freedom Sentinel, the name of the US counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan.

Citing information provided by Resolute Support, the NATO mission in Afghanistan, the Inspector General found that enemy attacks in the first and second quarters of fiscal 2021 remained above historical averages. , with 11,551 reported this quarter and 10,431 in the last quarter.

Enemy attacks over the past three quarters have been at the highest level since the start of Operation Freedom Sentinel in January 2015, “indicating that the Taliban have stepped up their attacks” against the defense and security forces Afghan nationals “after the signing of the United States in February 2020. Taliban agreement,” said the inspector general.

The report cited a Defense Intelligence Agency analysis that from January 1 to March 31, the Taliban’s military strategy was to prepare for large-scale offensives against provincial centers, complex attacks on national defense bases. Afghan and security forces and operations to degrade the capabilities of Afghan forces.

In the first two months of 2021, the Taliban surrounded the provincial capitals of Baghlan, Helmand, Kandahar, Kunduz and Uruzgan provinces in preparation for the offensives, and they continued to assassinate government employees, security officials and journalists, the report said.

Citing information from the Defense Intelligence Agency, the report said al-Qaeda continues to rely on the Taliban for protection and that ties between the two groups have strengthened.

At the same time, Afghan security forces carried out offensive operations against the Taliban, but the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that the offensives “did not accomplish anything of strategic value.”

Last month, the Biden administration announced that all US troops would leave Afghanistan by September 11, four months after the May 1 deadline set by the Trump administration’s peace deal with the Taliban Last year.

The Inspector General’s report cited a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment that the Taliban’s threats to resume hostilities against coalition forces if they did not withdraw by May 1 were credible and that the Taliban were very likely. respond with indirect fire, suicide bombings and attacks in vehicles. IEDs or improvised explosive devices.

The United States began to withdraw its troops on May 1. According to the US Central Command, 13-20% of the withdrawal process has been completed and around 115 C-17 cargo planes with equipment and personnel have left Afghanistan. The United States also handed over five bases to the Afghan Ministry of Defense.

‘We will help them’

The US special envoy for reconciliation in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, offered a more optimistic assessment on Tuesday during a hearing of the House foreign affairs committee.

Khalilzad said he disagreed with some predictions that Afghan government forces will collapse once US troops leave in September.

“I personally believe that the predictions that the Afghan forces will collapse immediately, they are not correct,” said Khalilzad, who negotiated the February 2020 deal with the Taliban that set the conditions for a US military withdrawal. .

The United States will continue to provide financial support to the Afghan security forces, he said. “We are helping them now. We will help them. It is our commitment.”

Democratic and Republican lawmakers expressed skepticism during the hearing that the Afghan government and its security forces would be able to retain power once U.S. forces leave, expressed fears that Afghans working for the US government face retaliation from the Taliban and said they fear dramatic gains in women’s rights will be lost.

Khalilzad, an Afghan-born diplomat, said there was no military solution to the conflict and that if the Taliban believed they could win on the battlefield, the insurgents would face a “long war”.

“The real choice Afghans will face is between a long war and a negotiated settlement. And I hope the Taliban and other Afghan leaders make the right choice. I hope those who have influence over the Taliban, like Pakistan, will. good thing, ”he said.

But he argued that the United States had to face the reality that a continued military presence would not produce a different result. “Again, I always come back to this proposition: what’s the alternative? Is the alternative to continue doing what we’ve been doing for another 10, 20 years if you see that there is no no way to triumph? “

Khalilzad said he shared lawmakers’ concerns about the safety of Afghans who worked as interpreters or in other jobs for US troops and diplomats. He said the Biden administration was working to speed up applications for U.S. visas under a program designed for Afghans employed by the U.S. government.

But he added: “We do not want to signal the panic and the departure of all Afghans educated by the worst case scenario and undermining the morale of the Afghan security forces. So it is a delicate and complicated balance that we must maintain. . “

As part of the US-Taliban deal signed last year, the insurgents pledged to ensure that al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups would not be allowed to use Afghan territory to launch attacks against the United States or its allies.

Asked whether the Taliban were keeping their counterterrorism promises, Khalilzad said, “They have made substantial progress in fulfilling these commitments. But we would like to see more.”

Khalilzad also hinted that the United States was making progress in concluding possible agreements with neighboring countries for access to military bases in order to deal with terrorist threats coming from Afghanistan. “What I can say in this format,” he said, “is that several countries in the region are open to enhanced cooperation.”

As for the future of women’s rights and human rights, Khalilzad said any future assistance from the United States would depend on Afghanistan’s respect for fundamental freedoms.

Khalilzad said Taliban officials told him their views on women’s rights have evolved since they came to power in the late 1990s.

“We don’t take their word for it. We will have to see,” he said.