Iran Wants U.S. to Withdraw from Afghanistan As Soon as Possible After Peace Deal Announced

Iran is urging the U.S. to withdraw troops from neighboring Afghanistan after the United States and the Taliban announced a tentative ceasefire ahead of a peace deal expected to be signed next week.

Asked what sort of timeline Tehran would like to see for the Pentagon and other allied international forces to exit Afghanistan, an Iranian official speaking on condition of anonymity told Newsweek, "the sooner the better."

The official said only then could Afghans truly find peace among themselves.

"When we reach that moment, all issues related to Afghanistan should be dealt with by the people of Afghanistan," the Iranian official said, adding that Tehran was prepared to play a role in supporting the war-torn country.

"If a future Afghan government asks Iran to do certain things, if we can do it, then we will," the official said. "The security of Afghanistan is the security of Iran."

Washington and Tehran have a lengthy, often-intertwining history of intervention in Afghanistan but recent tensions have turned them against one another. However, both the U.S. and Iran have an interest in peace in Afghanistan.

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An Iranian border guard looks through a pair of binoculars to monitor a border area on July 19, 2011, in Milak, southeastern Iran, bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Islamic Republic has sought to tighten its border security against both drug trafficking and groups wishing to foment unrest. ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. officials told Newsweek last month that a deal with the Taliban was expected to soon be signed, even as deadly unrest spurred by the conflict continued to grip the nation. Such a plan might include, the officials said, a reduction of the roughly 14,000 U.S. personnel in Afghanistan to about a third of that force strength.

On Friday, the U.S. and the Taliban announced they had reached an understanding allowing them to reduce violence for a week. This pause would be followed by a historic peace agreement to be signed February 29, concluding a year-long series of negotiations in the Qatari capital of Doha and ending the longest war in U.S. history.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid declared all fighters⁠—referred to as mujahideen⁠—"must adhere to their given duties for the upcoming seven days, must remain defensively alert in case of violation by the opposition and must strictly refrain from entering enemy territory." He emphasized that the agreement was mandatory.

Once the deal is signed, Taliban fighters "will be given new information and instructions in accordance with the agreement and implementation of those should be commenced," Mujahid instructed.

In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the settlement aimed "to end the war in Afghanistan, reduce United States and Allied Forces presence, and ensure that no terrorist group ever uses Afghan soil to threaten the United States or our allies." U.S.-Taliban talks have excluded the government in Kabul so any deal would necessitate direct talks with newly re-elected President Ashraf Ghani's administration.

"The only way to achieve a sustainable peace in Afghanistan is for Afghans to come together and agree on the way forward," Pompeo said.

That same day, however, Pompeo offered another message.

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President Donald Trump (L) and Vice President Mike Pence (C) observe the dignified transfer of two U.S. soldiers, killed in Afghanistan, at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, on February 10. The two U.S. soldiers, the most recent of more than 2,400 to have died in Afghanistan, have been identified as Sergeant 1st Class Javier Jaguar Gutierrez, 28, of San Antonio, Texas, and Sergeant 1st Class Antonio Rey Rodriguez, 28, of Las Cruces, New Mexico. JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Pompeo traveled to Saudi Arabia, where he spoke with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about "the ongoing threat posed by the Iranian regime" to the region. He reaffirmed "America's determination to stand with Saudi Arabia in the face of Iranian aggression" and commended the Financial Action Task Force for blacklisting Iran, a move he said would "protect the world from terrorist financing threats emanating from Iran."

President Donald Trump labels Iran the "world's leading sponsor of terrorism." His administration accuses the longtime U.S. foe of backing hostile movements and militias across the globe, including in Afghanistan, where both countries have long been active.

In 1979, a transformative year for the region, a revolution ousted a West-backed monarchy in Iran and the Soviet Union staged a military intervention in Afghanistan to support a communist government threatened by mujahideen rebels. Tehran's new government condemned Moscow's action but was soon embroiled in a war with another neighbor, Iraq. The CIA—alongside other regional and international forces—covertly supported the anti-Soviet insurgency.

Soviet troops withdrew after nearly a decade but unrest ensued amid competing factions. The U.S., Iran and post-Soviet Russia backed the failing Afghan government as the Taliban dominated throughout the 1990s but the tide turned after Al-Qaeda orchestrated the 9/11 attacks in 2001, drawing a massive U.S.-led intervention.

The U.S. and Iran began to coordinate closely on anti-Taliban efforts. At the center of this relationship was Revolutionary Guard Quds Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani. The exalted Iranian military figure went on to become a leading adversary of the U.S. as Washington turned against Tehran and ties only briefly improved with a 2015 nuclear deal and the emergence of another common foe, the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).

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Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran (C), speaks during the first meeting of national security secretaries of Iran, Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, China and India, in the capital Tehran, December 18, 2019. With the Trump administration seeking a withdrawal, regional powers in Asia are looking to enhance their role in Afghanistan. MOHSEN ATAEI/AFP/Getty Images

Trump's 2018 nuclear deal exit and subsequent sanctions set off a new cycle of hostilities. Soleimani's killing last month in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad marked the greatest escalation of this feud yet and was answered by missiles strikes against U.S. personnel in Iraq.

"Iran cannot forget the killing of Soleimani, he was dear to us as an instrumental element in the fight against terrorism and ISIS," the Iranian official told Newsweek.

Still, the Islamic Republic has witnessed war across the Middle East and its peripheries for most of its four-decade history and is not eager to enter into another major conflict. Iran, which already battles drug traffickers and separatist groups in areas bordering Afghanistan, prefers to avoid an all-out battle with Washington but does not rule out a potential confrontation.

"In the last 30 years the region has witnessed three wars, the Iran-Iraq War, the first U.S. war with Iraq in 1991 and the second U.S. war on Iraq in 2003, there is also the U.S. war in Afghanistan that has gone on for the past 18,19 years. The region is fed up with conflict, and we know the effects of a conflict," the Iranian official said.

"At the same time," the official added. "We have to prepare."