The Afghan Taliban this week pledged to violently disrupt the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan at any cost even as the narco-jihadis continue to negotiate a U.S.-backed “political reconciliation” pact with Kabul.
Anti-election threats by the Taliban came after the leading U.S. peace negotiator touted “excellent progress” in the discussions to end the nearly 18-year-old war that has killed and maimed thousands including many Americans.
Although the U.S. has invested more than $80 billion to develop the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), the force continues to struggle to protect the country from the Taliban. The ANDSF includes police and army units.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has made “political reconciliation” between the Taliban and Kabul the primary goal of its strategy to end the war. The Taliban, however, still refuses to engage in negotiations with Kabul, claiming it will only do so after the full withdrawal of foreign forces.
The Taliban has intensified attacks, killing scores of Afghans and some Americans since the talks began about a year ago. They now control or contest about half of Afghanistan, more than during any other time since U.S. troops removed them from office in late 2001.
This week, a bomb blast claimed by the Taliban killed at least 14 people and wounded nearly 150 others outside a police station in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Nevertheless, both sides say they have made progress in the peace talks.
The Associated Press (AP) noted:
The United States and the Taliban have resolved differences in peace talks over the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and guarantees from the insurgents that they will cut ties with other extremist groups, a Taliban official said Tuesday.
Afghanistan’s security forces are “fully prepared” to protect voters from the Taliban, President Ashraf Ghani said, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) noted on Tuesday.
Ghani is expected to win a second term in the September 28 elections.
“Participation in elections and choosing a leader through direct voting is the religious and legal right of the Afghan people,” Ghani proclaimed in a statement.
On July 28, terrorists carried out a bomb attack followed by a gunfight at the office of Amrullah Saleh, Ghani’s running-mate, killing at least 20 people.
On Tuesday, the Taliban urged Afghans to “refrain from participating in such [an election] process where their votes do not actually hold any value.”
“To prevent losses, God forbid, from being incurred by our fellow compatriots, they must stay away from gatherings and rallies that could become potential targets,” the statement added.
The Taliban dismissed the election as a U.S. “ploy,” saying it “shall exert utmost efforts in its prevention.”
Taliban terrorists also called on the Afghans to “boycott” the election.
The Taliban acknowledged in the statement against the elections that peace talks remain ongoing. This week, negotiators from the Taliban and the United States met to finalize the pact.
Following the eighth round of talks with the Taliban in Qatar, Zalmay Khalilzad, the top U.S. peace negotiator, wrote on Twitter on Monday that the sides have made “excellent progress.”
Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, said the negotiators “are discussing the final remaining points,” the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency noted.
“With that, the peace agreement will be completed, and then we will decide on the announcement of the date of the agreement,” Shaheen said.
The U.S.-Taliban agreement mainly revolves around the withdrawal of foreign forces in exchange for guarantees that groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) will not operate in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, CBS News declared:
The United States and the Taliban have resolved differences in peace talks over U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, as well as over insurgent guarantees on cutting ties with other extremist groups, a Taliban official said Tuesday.
U.S. negotiators are also asking for intra-Afghan peace negotiations on political reconciliation and a permanent ceasefire. The Taliban has said it will only talk to Kabul after the withdrawal of foreign forces. President Trump has indicated he is planning to leave behind a residual force to ensure the Taliban and billions of dollars in U.S. investments are protected.
Khalilzad told CBS News:
There are still details to discuss. As a result, there is no agreement yet. Any agreement we conclude will be condition-based. We are pursuing a peace agreement, not a withdrawal agreement.”
The envoy, however, reported “excellent progress” in the talks.
The Trump administration expects a peace deal finalized this year. Trump officials are against establishing timelines, stressing that an eventual withdrawal of American troops would be conditions-based.
Over nearly a year, the U.S. and Taliban have been discussing ways to end the war.
U.S. President Donald Trump has indicated that a residual force must remain in Afghanistan to ensure the Taliban keeps its promises and to guard the multi-billion nation-building effort. While the Taliban wants to keep U.S. taxpayer funds flowing into Afghanistan, it opposes the presence of a residual force.
The Taliban has repeatedly rejected U.S.-backed offers of a ceasefire and official recognition as a political power, which would grant the group the opportunity to run for office and return to power in Kabul.
Late last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani invited the same Afghan Taliban that U.S. troops removed from office in 2001 to participate in the upcoming presidential elections. The Taliban, which considers Kabul a U.S. puppet, has chosen to continue killing and maiming Afghan security forces and civilians. The group has intensified deadly attacks amid the ongoing peace talks.
Amid the peace talks, Taliban jihadis have kept up a near-daily rate of deadly attacks. Nevertheless, there are rumors that the United States may reduce its military footprint in Afghanistan from about 14,000 to 8,000 or 9,000 as part of a peace pact with the Taliban. Pentagon officials say they have not received any drawdown orders.