U.S. Mulls Afghan Exit by May, Wants Iran in UN-Led Peace Talks

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The Biden administration is considering withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan by May 1 as it leans on President Ashraf Ghani to accelerate peace talks with the Taliban, including by supporting a proposal for six-nation discussions that include Iran.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the comments in a letter to Ghani that was first reported by Afghan news channel Tolo News and confirmed as authentic by a U.S. government official with knowledge of the matter. He said the U.S. would ask the United Nations to convene foreign ministers from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and the U.S. “to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan.”

The letter also called on Ghani to take positions on U.S. proposals for a negotiated settlement and ceasefire, consider a 90-day “Reduction-in-Violence” agreement and participate in a senior level meeting with Taliban representatives hosted by Turkey. It said the U.S. was “considering the full withdrawal of our forces by May 1st, as we consider other options.”

“Even with the continuation of financial assistance from the United States to your forces after an American military withdrawal, I am concerned that the security situation will worsen and that the Taliban could make rapid territorial gains,” Blinken wrote. “I am making this clear to you so that you understand the urgency of my tone regarding the collective work outlined in this letter.”

A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the letter.

The letter represents the most substantive U.S. stance on Afghanistan since President Joe Biden took office in January. When he left office former President Donald Trump had reduced the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan to 2,500, the lowest number since 2001, and stated that he hoped all troops would exit the country by May.

Dawa Khan Menapal, a spokesman for Ghani, suggested that he couldn’t agree to Biden’s terms. “The letter can’t guide us through the peace process because President Ghani and our constitution have clearly drafted an Afghan version of a peace plan, which would be a roadmap towards peace,” Menapal said. He declined to make further comments.

Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib told reporters Sunday that negotiations with the Taliban alone will only lead to a “temporary peace” because the current war “is not an internal war and it has foreign dimensions” that need to be addressed.

Peace efforts between the Taliban insurgents and Ghani’s government in Doha, Qatar haven’t made much headway, with both sides taking months to even agree on the basic outline of the talks. Meanwhile, violence has risen since the peace talks started in September last year, including targeted killings of journalists, civil society members and politicians.

In 2020, 8,820 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded, according to the UN. The latest attack last week killed three members of a local media organization in eastern Jalalabad city.

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