According to a report from Reuters, the Taliban has been protecting US bases from attacks by other groups in Afghanistan. Unnamed Western officials said the arrangement was part of a secret annex in the US-Taliban peace deal that was signed in Doha in February 2020.
The officials said the Taliban wanted to show a sign of good faith to the US that they would not allow groups like al-Qaeda to gain a foothold in the country after the US left. The report said the Taliban protected foreign troops from “rival, or rogue Islamist groups” such as the local ISIS affiliate and the Haqqani network.
“They provided a layer of cover, almost like a buffer, and ordered their fighters to not injure or kill any foreign soldier in this period,” a Western diplomat told Reuters. A Western security official in Kabul said the Taliban had lived up to its end of the agreement.
“The Taliban swiftly responded to even minor attacks conducted by the Haqqani network and Islamic State fighters around the bases,” the security official said. Since the US-Taliban deal was signed, no US troops have died in combat in Afghanistan.
The US and Taliban have cooperated militarily in other situations. A report from The Washington Post last October revealed that the US had been providing air support to the Taliban in its fight against ISIS in the northeastern Kunar province. The team within the Joint Special Operations Command that was launching the drone strikes referred to themselves as the “Taliban Air Force.”
On Thursday, the White House said the US military has officially begun withdrawing from Afghanistan. The security official in Kabul who spoke with Reuters said around 2,000 US troops will remain in Afghanistan by Saturday, May 1st, which was the deadline set by the US-Taliban peace deal that President Biden pushed back without the consent of the Taliban.
The Taliban has hinted that they might start attacking the US again after Saturday. But considering they’ve gone this far, the group might wait and see if the US is serious about leaving before renewing attacks.
While the Taliban has refrained from attacking foreign forces, fighting between the Taliban and the US-backed Afghan government has been raging. A new report from the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said attacks against the Afghan military rose by 37 percent in the first quarter of 2021. Insider attacks have increased exponentially, rising by 82 percent.
Hawks in Washington point to this surge in violence as a reason to stay in Afghanistan. But the fighting is happening while the US is still in the country, and the continued presence of foreign troops would just result in an escalation of violence. The US plans to keep supporting the Afghan military financially, and questions remain about the presence of Pentagon contractors, who Kabul relies on to maintain its military equipment.