The top U.S. general in Afghanistan said on April 25 that the U.S. military has begun closing down operations in the country and that Afghanistan’s security forces “must be ready” to take over.
General Austin Miller told Afghan journalists at a press conference that he often is asked whether Afghan security forces can do the work in the absence of U.S. and other foreign troops, who are scheduled to begin withdrawing soon.
“My message has always been the same. They must be ready. They must be ready,” Miller said, speaking in Kabul.
While the official start of the withdrawal of the estimated 2,500 U.S. troops and 7,000 NATO troops is May 1, Miller said, “as we start taking local actions, we’ve already begun that.”
He added that some military equipment will be shipped out of Afghanistan, and a decision on what will remain with the Afghan security forces will be made later.
Miller's comments came hours before Taliban negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai appeared to indicate a breakthrough in peace talks, saying in a post of Twitter that two of the militant group’s demands would be met, including the removal of Taliban leaders from blacklisting and the release of thousands of Taliban prisoners.
However, a Taliban spokesman in Qatar, where months of intra-Afghan talks between Kabul and Taliban representatives have been stalled, later said that it was a fake tweet.
The Afghan government and President Ashraf Ghani have refused to release any more Taliban prisoners after releasing 5,000 last year, saying those former prisoners were at least in part responsible for an increase in violence. The Taliban denies the charges.
Bombings have surged since U.S. President Joe Biden announced a delay in the withdrawal of U.S. troops from a previous deadline of May 1 to September 11.
The Taliban warned it would step up its attacks after Biden announced the postponement of the withdrawal on April 14.
Taliban leaders responded to the delay by refusing to attend a high-level peace conference that was to take place in Turkey in mid-April. Ankara said the conference was postponed and would take place after Ramadan celebrations end in mid-May, but no precise date has been given.
From a military perspective, the idea of the Taliban not returning to a peace process “does not make sense.” Miller said, adding that a return to violence would be “senseless and tragic.”