KABUL – The Taliban cautiously welcomed on Tuesday the implementation of the first phase of their peace agreement with the United States – signed in Doha on Feb. 19 – that mandates the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan within 14 months.
“It is a welcome and positive step that the United States and its foreign allies have reduced the number of their forces and vacated five bases in accordance with their commitments under the agreement,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.
As per the Doha agreement, the US had agreed to reduce its troops in the country to 8,600 within 135 days of signing the deal, as part of complete withdrawal in 14 months.
The head of US Central Command in the country, General Frank McKenxie, had confirmed the reduction of troops in Afghanistan in a speech last month at a forum organized by the think-tank Aspen Institute.
“We’ve met our part of the agreement, we agreed to go to mid-8,000 range within 135 days. We’re at that number now,” McKenzie had said.
The agreement also mandated the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government in exchange for around 1,000 government prisoners being released by the insurgents, with the prisoner swap being a precursor for direct intra-Afghan negotiations. However, the slow and difficult process is yet to be completed.
Kabul has so far released around 4,2000 Taliban fighters while the militants have freed around 700 detainees.
“The delay in the completion of the first condition of the agreement – the prisoner release process – in this period is very unfortunate, (…) becoming a cause for the delay of intra-Afghan negotiations and comprehensive peace,” Mujahid said.
The Taliban emphasized that they had not carried out attacks against foreign forces in Afghanistan in the last 135 days, although Mujahid alleged that US forces had “frequently” carried out strikes against them.
“These are blatant violations of the agreement and a deliberate attempt at provoking the Mujahideen (fighters) towards large-scale attacks,” Mujahid said.
The rebels have thus justified their attack on Tuesday against a provincial headquarter of Afghanistan’s main intelligent agency – in which 15 people were killed and 63 injured – as a reaction to US operations and Afghan government’s aggressions.
Despite growing violence, the insurgents urged Kabul and Washington to carry out a “swift and complete implementation” of the Doha agreement.
Earlier on Tuesday, US Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad also hailed the completion of the first phase of the US-Taliban deal as a “key milestone.”
“The U.S. has worked hard to carry out the 1st phase of its commitments under the Agreement, including to reduce forces & depart five bases. NATO troops have come down in proportional numbers,” he tweeted.
However, Khalilzad insisted that the next phases of the Doha deal were “condition-based.”
“We will press for completion of prisoner releases, reduction of violence (…) & progress in intra-Afghan negotiations,” he said.