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US says Taliban not living up to commitments

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper delivers a speech during the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 18, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Wayne Clark)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said the Taliban is not living up to its commitments as militant violence is increasingly threatening a fragile deal signed with Washington this year.

After extended talks in Qatar, the Taliban and the United States signed an agreement on February 29 for reduced violence and a move toward talks with the Afghan government aimed at ending the 18-year conflict, but attacks by the militants have increased since then.

“I don’t think they are,” Esper told reporters on May 5 when asked if the Taliban were living up to their commitment.

Esper said he believed the Afghan government was also not living up to its commitment.

The Afghan government was not part of an agreement between the United States and the Taliban, but the deal called for Kabul to release 5,000 Taliban fighters as a confidence-building measure ahead of intra-Afghan talks.

Esper said the Afghan government and the Taliban “both need to come together and make progress on the terms that [are] laid out.”

Progress on advancing to discussions between the Taliban and the Afghan government has been delayed, partially by the political feud between President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who both claim to be Afghanistan’s rightful leader following September’s disputed election.

The Taliban has stepped up violence, with an increasing number of attacks in the 45 days since signing the deal, which paves the way for a U.S. troop drawdown.

The United States is continuing its drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, which are expected to reach about 8,600 troops this summer.

The violence in the war-damaged nation has coincided with the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

A recent report from the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction warned that the spread of COVID-19 could derail the stalled peace efforts.

Afghanistan has registered 2,704 coronavirus infections and 85 fatalities, but there are fears the actual number could be much higher.

On May 4, the Taliban called on the Afghan government to speed up the release of prisoners amid the rapidly spreading outbreak.

“In the last 3 days, our 300 prisoners were released from the Kbl Adm. [Kabul administration] prisons which we welcome,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted.

“However, it is not enough — the process should be expedited so the prisoners be saved from the Coronavirus and the way be paved for an earliest inception of intra-Afghan negotiations,” Shaheen wrote.

The Afghan government so far has released about 750 Taliban inmates from jails, according to the Office of National Security Council (ONSC).

The agreement also provides for the militants to release 1,000 Afghan security force members.