Citing sources close to the Taliban, Afghanistan’s Tolo News reported that the Biden administration has asked the Taliban to agree to a continued US presence in Afghanistan for three or six months past May 1st.
The May 1st withdrawal deadline was set by the US-Taliban peace deal that was signed in Doha last year. While the Biden administration has yet to make an official announcement, it’s clear the US is looking to stay.
Tolo News said the Taliban has not yet made a decision on the US request and is asking that first their 7,000 prisoners should be released and that the group’s officials are removed from a UN blacklist.
The report quoted Faiz Mohammad Zaland, a university lecturer in Kabul, who said the Taliban is not likely to agree to the US request. “The Americans have asked for the extension of their troops for another three or six months, but the Taliban insist on the implementation of the Doha agreement,” he said.
The report lines up with what US officials have been saying about the deadline. Last week, President Biden said it would be “hard” to pull out by May 1st but also said he couldn’t “picture” US troops still being in the country by 2022.
After Biden’s comments, the Taliban responded and warned if US troops remain in the country past May 1st that they would be targeted, a sign that the group has no interest in extending the deadline. Since the Doha agreement was signed, the Taliban has lived up to its commitment not to attack US forces. February 8th marked the first full year that no US troops died in combat in Afghanistan since the war started.
The question is if Biden will choose to stay past May 1st without the approval of the Taliban, which would likely mean an escalation of the almost 20-year-old war.