No hasty or disorderly withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan: US Defence Secretary
Omar Sobhani

Washington: Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has said that the US will not undertake a hasty or disorderly withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, stressing that violence must decrease now in the war-torn country and more progress is needed in the Afghan-led negotiations.

The US and the Taliban reached an agreement in February 2020 that called for a permanent ceasefire, peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, and a withdrawal of all foreign forces by May 1. There are about 2,500 US troops currently in the country.

"We are conducting a rigorous interagency review of the situation, including all relevant options, with full consideration of the consequences of any potential course of action"I told our allies that no matter what the outcome of our review, the US will not undertake a hasty or disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan that puts their forces or the alliance's reputation at risk. At this time, no decisions about our future force posture have been made," Austin told reporters at a Pentagon news conference on Friday.

"And so, to that end, we are conducting a rigorous interagency review of the situation, including all relevant options, with full consideration of the consequences of any potential course of action," he said.

Clearly, the violence is too high right now, and more progress needs to be made in the Afghan-led negotiations, he asserted.

"So I urge all parties to choose the path towards peace. The violence must decrease now," he said.

Austin said that at this time, no decisions about future force posture have been made.

"In the meantime, current missions will continue, and of course, commanders have the right and the responsibility to defend themselves and their Afghan partners against attack," he said.

"As we move forward in our review, we will consult with our NATO allies, our Resolute Support partners, and of course, the government of Afghanistan, and there will be no surprises. We will consult each other and consult together and decide together and act together. And so that was my message over the last two days, and I think it was well-received," Austin said.

Secretary of State Antony J Blinken spoke on Thursday with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to discuss the United States' ongoing review of its strategy in Afghanistan. During the call he emphasised America's commitment to support the peace process, aiming for a just and durable political settlement and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.

"The Secretary emphasised that the United States will continue close consultations with Afghanistan's leaders, NATO Allies, and international partners on the way ahead," State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said.

Congressman Stephen F. Lynch, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, on Friday held a hearing to examine the final report released by the US Institute of Peace Afghanistan Study Group (ASG), which Congress established in December 2019 to "consider the implications of a peace settlement, or the failure to reach a settlement, on US policy, resources, and commitments in Afghanistan." The report argues that US involvement in Afghanistan is at a critical juncture.

On one hand, a complete US military withdrawal from Afghanistan by May 2021, as envisioned by the February 2020 US-Taliban agreement, would likely have dangerous consequences for US national security and the future stability of Afghanistan. On the other hand, the Taliban have signalled they will withdraw from the peace process if US troops remain beyond May 2021, the report said.

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