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Afghanistan’s Taliban say honoring Doha deal, warn US troops to leave or die

The Taliban have roundly dismissed the Pentagon’s claim that the Afghan militant group is not in compliance with the agreement it reached with the United States in Qatar last year, warning Washington that US troops will be killed if they refuse to leave the country as required by the deal.

In a tweet on Friday, Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, reacted to Pentagon press secretary John Kirby’s comments in his first news conference a day earlier about the US military presence in Afghanistan.

Kirby claimed “the Taliban have not met their commitments” under the deal they reached with the former US administration in Doha last February, which would ultimately lead to a permanent cease-fire in exchange for cutting the number of American troops in Afghanistan in phases to go to zero by May 2021.

The US troop drawdown began under ex-president Donald Trump, who reduced the number of American boots on the ground from approximately 13,500 to 2,500 before leaving office in mid-January.

Kirby, however, said the US will not proceed with the drawdown unless the Taliban comply with the Doha agreement. He added that new Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was reviewing the matter and had discussed the path forward in the war-torn country with NATO allies and partners.

Mujahid, however, said the Pentagon’s claim about the Taliban’s non-compliance was not true.

The Afghan group, he added, “is committed to all articles of the agreement and is honoring its side.”

“Implementing the Doha deal is the only solution to the current challenge,” The Taliban’s spokesman said. “We want the Americans to honor the Doha agreement as well.”

In a phone conversation with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday, new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was reviewing the agreement with Taliban to see whether the Taliban was fulfilling 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.”

In recent weeks, deadly attacks and high-profile assassinations have seen a rise in Afghanistan. The Taliban have denied responsibility for the killings, but Afghan and US officials have pinned the blame on the group.

A part of the deal, the Taliban promised to break ties with al-Qaeda and not allow any other armed group to use the Afghan territories under their control to attack the US.

However, the memorandum from the US Treasury Department to the Department of Defense, released on January 4, claimed, “as of 2020, al-Qaeda is gaining strength in Afghanistan while continuing to operate with the Taliban under the Taliban’s protection.”

That claim was also rejected by the Taliban, with its deputy peace negotiator, Shir Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, saying the Afghan group has no ties to terrorist outfits, including al-Qaeda.

“We are acting based on the agreement [with the US] and do not allow foreign militants to have presence in Afghanistan,” he told Russian media on Friday during a visit to Moscow.

Stanikzai said such claims are intended to mislead the world community and serve as a pretext to justify the US military’s continued presence on Afghan soil.

Taliban: We will kill US troops if they refuse to leave

He added that the 2020 agreement with the United States was also meant offer American “invading” troops a “safe passage” out of Afghanistan, and that the Taliban expects new US President Joe Biden administration’s so-called review of the document will not lead to its destruction.

“We hope that when they are reviewing it they will come to the same positive [conclusion],” Stanikzai stressed.

The Taliban negotiator once again rejected a New York Times report in June 2020 that accused Russia of paying the militant group to kill American troops in Afghanistan, delivering a stern warning to the US against attempting to keep its forces on Afghan oil in defiance of the Doha accord.

“We do not need anyone to give us reward for the killing of Americans. Americans are the invaders and we are [have been] killing them since 2001,” he said.

“If they remain in Afghanistan after this [the agreed deadline] we will also kill them even if somebody reward us or do not reward us. We take our reward from God. We fight the invaders without a reward, without any bounty,” Stanikzai warned.

The Taliban view the Kabul government as a US agent and cite the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan as the main reason behind their continued militancy.

The US along with its NATO allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001 under the guise of fighting terrorism and dismantling al-Qaeda.

The invasion — which has turned into the longest war in US history — removed the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, but it only led to more militancy and violence as well as the emergence of Takfiri terrorism in the Central Asian country.

Over 2,400 American soldiers and tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have also been killed in the war.

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