A statement from the Afghan jihadist organization the Taliban condemned President Joe Biden on Thursday for delaying the withdrawal of American troops from the country, noting the administration of President Donald Trump agreed to leave the country by May 1, but Biden would keep troops there for another four months.
In remarks on Wednesday, Biden announced that all U.S. troops would leave Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attacks on the American homeland that initially prompted President George W. Bush to invade the country. The Taliban has close ties to al-Qaeda and American intelligence officials believed al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden may be hiding in Afghanistan at the time; U.S. forces ultimately found him in neighboring Pakistan.
Biden presented the withdrawal as a declaration he believed the war had gone on too long, without openly addressing that, had he not changed the deadline, U.S. troops would have left Afghanistan by May 1. In late 2020, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Doha, Qatar, to meet Taliban leaders in talks that resulted in an agreement: if the Taliban cut ties to international terrorist groups and stopped attacking U.S. forces, America would withdraw its troops by May 1.
He and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have also heavily emphasized that America would retain a strong presence in Afghanistan through civilian programs focused on humanitarian aid and development.
The Taliban’s statement in response to Biden emphasized the fact that, under Trump, America had made binding agreements with the group that included the May exit.
“This decision is a clear violation of the Doha Agreement and non-compliance with its commitments,” the Taliban said, referring to where the deal was brokered.
“As this agreement was signed in the presence of United Nations and representatives of numerous world countries and organizations, and is currently being breached by America,” the statement continued, “it is imperative that all countries and organizations that were witnesses to the signing of this agreement exert pressure on America to implement its commitments and withdraw all forces from Afghanistan by the specified date.”
The Taliban concluded suggesting it would return to attacking American troops between May 1 and September 11, which it had largely ceased doing as part of the Doha deal; it instead focused on killing Afghan forces.
“Now as the agreement is being breached by America, it in principle opens the way for the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate to take every necessary countermeasure, hence the American side will be held responsible for all future consequences, and not the Islamic Emirate,” the Taliban statement read, according to Afghanistan’s Tolo News.
Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the jihadist organization, added in a separate remark that the Taliban was not only committed to seeing an end to the U.S. military presence in the country, but that it “seeks withdrawal of all foreign forces.” President Bush used America’s membership in NATO to invoke its Article 5 provision in 2001, which requires all NATO countries to respond to an attack on any member as if it were an attack on itself. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed on Thursday that the organization still has about 10,000 troops in the country and would begin withdrawing them by the original Trump deadline, May 1.
“I’ve concluded that it’s time to end America’s longest war,” Biden announced on Wednesday, confirming that he was continuing the war for an extra four months. He admitted the Trump administration deal to withdraw was “perhaps not what I would have negotiated myself.”
Biden added that American troops would be forced to attack the Taliban if they attempted to enforce the agreement signed late last year.
“The Taliban should know, if they attack us as we drawdown, we will defend ourselves and our partners with all the tools at our disposal,” he declared.
Biden also confirmed that he discussed extending the Afghan war with former President Bush.
The Taliban has already escalated attacks on Afghan army forces, killing at least three soldiers on Tuesday in the province of Badakhshan. Another three provinces reported attacks on Wednesday night: Ghor, Badghis, and Zabul. According to the Khaama news agency of Afghanistan, the Badghis attack killed seven police officers, one security force member was killed in Ghor, and the Zabul attack is ongoing, making total casualty counts difficult to estimate.
The Afghan government has responded with understated remarks to Biden’s decision to withdraw later, particularly notable given that the original deal Washington brokered corresponded with an increase in attacks on Afghan forces. President Ashraf Ghani said in a statement on Twitter that he spoke to Biden on the extension of America’s military presence there and that Kabul “respects” the decision.
Tonight, I had a call with President Biden in which we discussed the U.S. decision to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by early September. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan respects the U.S. decision and we will work with our U.S. partners to ensure a smooth transition.
— Ashraf Ghani (@ashrafghani) April 14, 2021
“As we move into the next phase in our partnership, we will continue to work with our US/NATO partners in the ongoing peace efforts,” Ghani added. “Afghanistan’s proud security and defense forces are fully capable of defending its people and country, which they have been doing all along, and for which the Afghan nation will forever remain grateful.”