Since signing of the U.S-Taliban deal, some revealing reports are coming out. A Washington, March 11, 2020 datelined AFP report, “Taliban fought IS with ‘limited’ U.S. military support, U.S. general reveals”, said:
“The Taliban has shown that it can fight and defeat Islamic State group jihadists in Afghanistan, a top U.S. general said Tuesday, revealing for the first time that it had done so in recent months with “very limited” U.S. military support.
“‘It was a bloody mess, but they did it,’ General Kenneth McKenzie, head of the U.S. Central Command, said of the Taliban’s virtual defeat of IS in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province in recent months.
“McKenzie disclosed the U.S. military support for the Taliban operation in congressional testimony, but provided few details on the role played by U.S. forces.”
The U.S. general called to testify about the situation in Afghanistan following a deal that the U.S. signed with the Taliban February 29 in Doha.
Under the agreement, the Taliban pledge to tackle jihadists such as the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda, and hold peace talks with the Afghan government.
“Over the last several months in eastern Afghanistan we’ve watched the Taliban compress and crush the ISIS presence on the ground in southern Nangarhar province, and they’ve been very effective doing that,” McKenzie said, using an alternate acronym for Islamic State.
“There was very limited support from us,” he said, without elaborating further on the role U.S. forces played.
“They have demonstrated a capability to do it. It was a bloody mess, but they did it,” the US general said.
“ISIS really now no longer holds ground in Nangarhar province.”
McKenzie said he was “less optimistic” about the Taliban taking on Al-Qaeda from their base in then Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
“That’s something they’re going to have to demonstrate that has not yet been demonstrated,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie reminded lawmakers that the Taliban must meet its commitments for there to be a withdrawal.
“We don’t need to trust them, we don’t need to like them, we don’t need to believe anything they say, we need to observe what they do,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie said that the U.S. military has yet to prepare a military plan for a total withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Taliban are not keeping ‘their part of the bargain’
A “U.S. commander says Taliban are not keeping ‘their part of the bargain’” headlined report by The Guardian said on March 10, 2020:
Gen has said the Taliban are not keeping ‘their part of the bargain’ from the deal signed with the U.S., saying the insurgents were continuing to launch attacks.
McKenzie was giving evidence to Congress, hours after US forces began pulling out of Afghanistan as agreed in the deal.
“The Taliban need to keep their part of the bargain, and they are continuing attacks,” McKenzie said. “They are not directed against coalition forces, they are not occurring in city centers, they are occurring at isolated checkpoints. But those attacks are occurring, and they’re not consistent with a movement toward a negotiated settlement, and they’re not consistent with the undertaking they made.”
“We’re going to go to 8,600 by the summer,” McKenzie said. “Conditions on the ground will dictate if we go below that. If conditions on the ground are not permissive, my advice would not be to continue that reduction.”
Other media reports said:
U.S. officials have not spelled out the conditions for the U.S. withdrawal to continue, leaving the Trump administration much room for maneuver in interpreting success.
A secret annex to the agreement signed in Doha reportedly lists the sort of attacks that are prohibited during that period, including assaults on the retreating U.S. troops. The annex has been shown to members of Congress but not to the public.
The UN Security Council expressed its unanimous backing from the U.S.-Taliban deal on Tuesday and called for intra-Afghan peace talks, which the council said, “must protect the rights of all Afghans, including women, youth and minorities.”
In a highly skeptical assessment of the agreement, McKenzie told a House committee he was not optimistic about the Taliban severing ties with al-Qaida.
“We need to observe what they do and we have the capability to do that … That has not yet been demonstrated,” he said.
But, the general added: “We’re going to have ample time to see if they actually do that … And that will be before we become irrevocably committed to a force presence that would not allow us to have adequate leverage.”
“To date, Taliban attacks are higher than we believe are consistent with an idea to actually carry out this plan,” McKenzie said. “If they’re unable to draw down the current level of attacks, then the political leadership will be able to make decisions based on that.”
He added that his optimism or pessimism about the future does not matter because any decisions will be based on facts and what happens on the ground.
Gen McKenzie was asked what evidence the U.S. has that the Taliban have cut ties with al-Qaida.
He said it’s pretty clear the Taliban are actively fighting the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, but added that he is “less optimistic” about al-Qaida.
“That’s something they (the Taliban) are going to have to demonstrate that has not yet been demonstrated,” he added, referring to the Taliban showing that it has severed ties to the extremist group that planned the September 11, 2001 attacks from Afghanistan. He said the U.S. will have “ample time to see if they actually do that” before the U.S. completes a troop withdrawal.
He said the key threats to the U.S. continue to be the ability of al-Qaida and the Islamic State to generate attacks against the U.S.
“The best intelligence estimates tell us that if we do not maintain pressure on those two entities, that in a period of time — and you can say a year, you can say two years, you can say somewhere in between — they’re going generate the ability to do external attacks again, and that will manifest itself here in the United States,” Gen McKenzie said.
McKenzie said he would recommend against that full pullout if attacks continue and the Afghan forces cannot protect their own country without direct U.S. support.
Both Gen McKenzie and Kathryn Wheelbarger, a top Pentagon policy adviser on international affairs, said America’s complete troop withdrawal is contingent on whether the level of violence is reduced and the Taliban adheres to its commitments.
Ms Wheelbarger called the full pullout “aspirational” and said Defense Secretary Mark Esper would reassess the matter if the Taliban does not abide by the agreement.
Esper last week said, “The entire process will be conditions-based, and we will retain in Afghanistan the necessary capabilities to protect our service members and allies and support the Afghan security forces.”
The chief Pentagon spokesperson, Jonathan Hoffman, later presented a rosier assessment of the Taliban compliance with the Doha agreement.
“Although there are ups and downs, it has somewhat been holding,” Hoffman said.
The deal with the Taliban has been thrown into chaos because both Ashraf Ghani and his main political rival Abdullah Abdullah were each sworn in as president in separate ceremonies.
A key challenge will be whether al-Qaida is able to resurge in Afghanistan and present a threat once again to the U.S.