Taliban Dismisses Afghan Attempt to Slow US Exit: We've 'Made Great Sacrifices'

With the war in Afghanistan approaching its 20th anniversary this fall, the Taliban is countering efforts by Afghanistan's internationally recognized government to stall the planned U.S. military exit from the country despite a peace agreement signed nearly a year ago.

President Joe Biden, not yet in office two weeks, has begun reviewing former President Donald Trump's policies, key among them is a historic accord reached last February by means of inter-Afghan talks that included the Taliban, also known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and the Afghan government, convened in an effort to end the longest war in U.S. history.

Washington's ally in Kabul has warned that the peace that was promised by the Taliban has not occurred, as violence continues to erupt. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told a virtual session of the Aspen Security Forum on Friday that the U.S. and NATO allies must "signal to the Taliban that the U.S. is here to secure peace and not to retreat and leave the field open," accusing the Taliban of so far not living up to its commitments.

Taliban spokesperson Mohammad Naeem fired back in a statement sent to Newsweek, saying that "the Kabul administration's accusations of the Islamic Emirate and inciting others against it are neither new nor of interest."

He also addressed Ghani's argument that "the Taliban's narrative was that they defeated the United States that the United States and NATO were on the run."

To this, the Taliban official provided an alternative view of the war on the U.S. and its partners.

"They occupied our country, and this is clear to everyone," Naeem said. "We want the independence of our country and for the fate of our people to be in their hands, and this is the goal of every human being, so that you do not want to have foreign forces in your country and the fate of your country is in their own hands."

This goal, he argued, has been the central focus of the Taliban's struggle since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion launched weeks after the 9/11 attacks orchestrated by Al-Qaeda, which was based in what was then largely Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

"Our great people, 20 years ago, made great sacrifices to reach this goal," Naeem told Newsweek. "If the restoration of freedom and independence was a victory for the people and a defeat for the occupier, this is a matter that cannot be discussed."

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Afghan Taliban militants and villagers attend a gathering as they celebrate the peace deal in the Afghan conflict on U.S. in Afghanistan, in Alingar district of Laghman Province on March 2, 2020. Violence has persisted nationwide in spite of the agreement, which is now under review by the Biden administration. NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AFP/Getty Images

The Taliban was formed in the 1990s from the ranks of rebels who waged war against another major foreign power, the Soviet Union, years earlier. That conflict ended in the late 1980s with a Soviet withdrawal and the collapse of an allied communist Afghan administration at the hands of mujahideen fighters, which included an array of groups such as the newly formed Al-Qaeda and factions backed by the U.S. and other foreign countries.

While the 21st-century U.S.-led campaign initially defeated the Taliban, the group has since retaken large parts of the country, prolonging a bloody war that has killed more than 2,400 American troops, wounded in excess of 20,000 more and killed tens of thousands of Afghan troops, fighters and civilians.

Breaking with his predecessors, former President Donald Trump engaged in direct diplomacy with the Islamist militia, whose representatives met for talks with their U.S. counterparts in the Qatar capital of Doha, a process that eventually resulted in last year's peace agreement. The deal required follow-up negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan government, but these interactions have proven difficult since they began in September.

Meanwhile, deadly unrest continues across the country. Attacks have targeted both security forces and civilians, including students and members of minority communities. Recently, a series of assassinations has struck women working as judges, journalists and in other positions of public prominence deemed inappropriate by many ultraconservative elements in the country.

Further threatening the fragile process, a blast struck the vehicle of Khushnood Nabizada, who heads the office of the state minister for peace affairs, on Monday. All inhabitants, including his family and driver, survived.

"This attack is in fact an assault on the peace process itself, key members of the peace structure and activists who have dedicated their lives to the peace process," the State Ministry for Peace said in a statement. "We condemn the attack in the strongest terms."

The ministry reiterated that this "level of violence is unacceptable to the people of Afghanistan as peace efforts are underway" and called for more international support to bring peace to the country.

The United Nations Mission in Afghanistan issued a similar condemnation, calling it "another deplorable incident, akin to an attack on the peace process itself."

Elsewhere in the capital on Monday, a bomb attached to a civilian vehicle also detonated, killing a police officer and civilian.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. A number of Afghan and Western officials have blamed the Taliban for the rise in violence, while other militant elements such as a local Islamic State branch known as ISIS-Khorasan, or ISIS-K, and remnants of Al-Qaeda, are also active in the country and have conducted high-profile attacks.

A joint statement released Sunday by U.S., European Union and NATO officials held the Taliban responsible for the uptick in unrest and urged the Afghan government to do more to investigate them.

"The Taliban bears responsibility for the majority of this targeted violence, and its attacks undermine state institutions and contribute to an insecure environment in which terrorist and criminal groups are able to freely operate," the statement said. "We call on the Government of Afghanistan to more actively and transparently investigate these attacks to ensure that those who instigate and carry out violence against the population are identified and brought to justice."

Hours later, the Taliban denied in a separate release that the group "is continuing a senseless war, is killing civilians, is destroying public infrastructure and is involved in assassinations." Rather, the group claimed that its strategy "from the very outset has been to resolve issues through dialogue."

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A member of the Afghan security forces holds a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) near the site of a car bomb attack in Sherzad district of Nangarhar Province on January 30. Part of the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement reached last year mandates that the Taliban will not allow U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS take root in Afghanistan, a promise to which the country's government says the group hasn't lived up. NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AFP/Getty Images

The Biden administration has yet to make any official determinations on whether or not to continue along the path set by its predecessor, which had reduced the force strength of U.S. troops in the country to 2,500 ahead of a May 2021 deadline for total withdrawal. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during his first press conference last Wednesday that the new administration was still researching where it stood vis-à-vis the Taliban.

"One of the things that we need to understand is exactly what is in the agreements that were reached between the United States and the Taliban, to make sure that we fully understand the commitments that the Taliban has made," Blinken said, "as well as any commitments that we've made."

Blinken also said he would look into reports alleging Russia had paid "bounties" to Taliban fighters for the targeting of U.S. troops, a charge vehemently denied by Moscow and referenced in Biden's own call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A day after his debut briefing to reporters, Blinken spoke with Ghani by phone, informing the Afghan leader of the review of the peace agreement and "whether the Taliban are living up to their commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence in Afghanistan, and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and other stakeholders."

As of Friday, however, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden's "commitment remains" to bring U.S. troops home this year.