Unusually high levels of fighting in the winter by Taliban militants risks further endangering an already fragile peace process in Afghanistan, according to the commander of U.S. forces in the war-wracked country.
"Taliban violence is much higher than historical norms," General Scott Miller told Reuters on February 17. "It just doesn't create the conditions to move forward in what is hopefully a historic turning point for Afghanistan."
Fighting usually dwindles during the snowy winter months before the Taliban launches a "spring offensive" around March.
But Miller said more frequent and intense Taliban attacks this winter have prompted the Afghan government to step up preparations for increased violence in the warmer spring, which the international community fears will further endanger the talks between Kabul and the militants that started in September in Qatar.
Nearly a year after the United States signed a troop-withdrawal deal with the Taliban that called for a reduction in violence by all sides, attacks by the group have escalated, Miller said, adding that a more intense spring offensive by the militants is likely.
The increased fighting came as negotiations in Qatar's capital, Doha, have largely stalled in recent weeks.
Furthermore, Taliban leaders have left Qatar, according to an unnamed senior State Department official, prompting concern that talks could be on the brink of collapse.
"If the violence isn't reduced, it's going to make a peace process very, very difficult; it would be very difficult for any side to make the necessary compromises," Miller said.
A Taliban spokesman did not reply to Reuters' request for comment on the spring offensive.
The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is reviewing a peace deal that former President Donald Trump's administration signed with the Taliban in February last year, including whether to observe the May 1 deadline in the troop withdrawal agreement.
Miller said foreign forces could be a target if the Taliban views the deal as breached.